Pregnant women have job protections under federal law. A recent surge in state and local laws has vastly increased the number of employers who are required to reasonable accommodate pregnant employees. It’s very important that employers be aware of the pregnancy laws in place, and take steps to ensure that their policies are in line with federal, state, and local laws about pregnancy.

There are three federal statutes in place that protect pregnant women in the workplace, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act. Title VII prevents employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of pregnancy. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that employees provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee with a “disability”, which includes pregnancy. However, in order for the ADA to apply, the employer must have at least 15 or more employees, the employer can require documentation from a doctor in order to be required to supply the accommodation, and an employee must be able to perform essential job functions with the accommodation.

The Family and Medical Leave Act lets women have time off related to the pregnancy without fear of losing her job. The FMLA requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to an employee for the birth of her child, or for a serious health condition arising from the pregnancy. However, the FMLA only applies to employers with 50 or more employees, only applies to workers who have worked for the employer for the past 12 months and have worked at least 1,250 hours in the year before the requested leave, and the employee may have to provide evidence from a doctor that any leave is medically necessary.

Therefore, although there are several federal laws in place to protect pregnant women in the workplace, they may not apply in many cases, particularly to smaller employers or part-time employees. Fortunately, many employers have programs in place which not only comply with those federal statutes, but in some cases go above and beyond what’s required. For example, some employers offer paid maternity leave, while others offer more than 12 weeks off.

While there are some good employers out there, there are also a lot of employers who don’t want to comply with federal law, or may purposely keep the business small in order to avoid complying with the myriad federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act. To ensure that pregnant women are being treated fairly in the workplace, a whole host of state and local laws have been implemented recently that will provide extra protections for pregnant women beyond what federal law requires.

California law imposes an additional requirement on the employers of pregnant women. Employers with five or more employees must grant an employee’s request for reasonable accommodation for a condition which is related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. However, this is only required upon the advice of the woman’s doctor. The accommodation could include a transfer to a less strenuous or dangerous position.

For employers in California, it’s critical that they update their policies on pregnancy to reflect not only federal law, but also state law. If an employer breaks the rules, an employee can sue for damages. If you are an employer in California who has questions about pregnancy laws and how to comply, or if you are a pregnant employee who has had her legal rights violated, call Liberty Law. Micha Star Liberty, Oakland pregnancy discrimination attorney, helps employers and employees navigate the questions and issues surrounding pregnancy in the workplace. Call her today at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000 with your questions.

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