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Lawsuit highlights pregnancy discrimination at work

Pregnancy can be an exciting time, but it can also be stressful. Not only are women worried about their health and their baby, they may also worry about how their employer is going to treat them regarding their pregnancy.

Unfortunately, many women still face discrimination in the workplace. It can even happen at workplaces you might think would understand a health condition, like a healthcare network. The California-based Family HealthCare Network is settling a disability and pregnancy-discrimination suit with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for $1.75 million.

History of the case

According to the EEOC, Family HealthCare denied accommodations on a regular basis, including a failure to grant leave. They also fired employees who could not return when their leave ended, and sometimes even before they used up their approved leave. Employers must “accommodate” disabilities under several different laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) further protects pregnant women from discrimination.

Definition of accommodation

Under the ADA and the PDA, employers must provide workplace accommodations for disabled employees. An accommodation helps the employee do their job, despite a disability. A pregnant woman is not disabled, by definition. But she may develop a condition during pregnancy that limits her ability to work. The law clarifies that the employer should give her the accommodations they would give to other disabled employees.

For example, if a disabled employee cannot lift anything over 25 pounds, the employer may put that person on light duty work. If a doctor tells a pregnant employee not to do any heavy lifting, the employer should put her on the same light duty work as the disabled employee. Accommodations can also include additional time off, shortened work schedules and a stool or chair to sit in while working.

Additional protections in California

Californians enjoy even more protection than many other Americans. California has two other laws to protect pregnant women:

  • Pregnancy Disability Leave. If you are facing pregnancy complications, your doctor may recommend you take an early leave from work before you give birth. You may take up to four months of leave under this policy if your employer has at least 5 employees. The leave is unpaid, unless your employer has a short-term disability policy that allows for paid leave.
  • California Family Rights Act. Even if you take pregnancy disability leave, you can still take up to 12 weeks after your child’s birth if you worked at your job for 12 months and worked at least 1,250 hours over those 12 months. Your employer may request you use your vacation and sick time during your leave, but they must allow the leave. Your employer does not have to pay you for this leave, but California does have a Paid Family Leave program that allows you to collect partial pay for up to six weeks of your leave based on California’s unemployment insurance program.

If you are pregnant and you feel that your employer is not providing necessary accommodations, or is discriminating against you in other ways, you may have a pregnancy discrimination suit.