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Both Federal and California’s Laws Determine how businesses handle a worker’s pregnancy

On Behalf of | Jul 8, 2023 | Employer Defense

Those working in management, human resources or executive roles at organizations in California need to have an understanding of both federal and state employment laws. After all, companies have a legal obligation to uphold workers’ rights and to provide certain forms of accommodation for workers in specific circumstances, and California is well-known for having more workers’ rights rules than most – if not all – other states. With respect to a pregnancy, California’s Fair Employment & Housing Act (FEHA) and its California Family Rights Act (CFRA) provide equal or greater protections to employees, with greater corresponding responsibilities placed upon employers than Federal law.

When an employee announces their pregnancy at work, it is natural to focus on the logistical headaches that come with an extended leave of absence and the pressures of new parenthood. However, organizations need to be very careful to respect a worker’s rights when they confirm that they are pregnant in order to remain compliant with the law. These are two of the expectations that a pregnant worker might lawfully have of their employer.

The expectation to take unpaid leave

At the federal level, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides pregnant workers with the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth of a child. However, the FMLA only applies to of those working at larger businesses and those that have been with a company for some time.

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) expands on the FMLA and protects the right of women at smaller businesses to take unpaid leave. Although the state doesn’t consider a healthy pregnancy a disabling medical condition, there are leave rights for those with complications. Many women with new babies will also qualify for leave to allow them to bond with their infants. Companies will need to arrange to allow that unpaid leave and then facilitate the worker’s return to their job later.

The expectation of reasonable accommodations

Pregnancy is a protected medical condition at the federal level, which means that workers shouldn’t have to worry about discrimination based on their pregnancy. California’s FEHA (Fair Employment & Housing Act) provides even greater protections that often exceed Federal standards.  It may be the specific issues that arise during pregnancy, rather than the pregnancy itself, that necessitate some accommodations for individual women. Some women develop health issues, like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, which may alter their ability to perform their standard job functions.

Those who cannot continue performing the exact same work will often have restrictions or suggested accommodations supplied by their physicians. Whether a worker needs bed rest, time off their feet or reduce lifting requirements, their employer should work with them so that they can continue being a productive member of the company’s employee roster.

Employers that are aware of California and federal laws will have an easier time upholding those rules while simultaneously minimizing the disruption a worker’s medical condition may have on the company as a whole.