Having a child is a stressful, wonderful, emotional time. When you are balancing your pregnancy with a job, it’s often difficult to know exactly what your rights are. It’s not like every employer hands you a list as soon as you announce your pregnancy.
Your goals are to return to work as soon as you’ve had time to bond with your newborn. When this is the case, what are your rights?
Pregnancy Discrimination Laws
Once you tell your employer you’re pregnant, you have the right to request reasonable accommodations to meet your medical needs during pregnancy and after childbirth. If you can only stand for so many hours, your company should allow you to sit as often as is necessary. If you have morning sickness, you could ask to be moved to a desk nearer the one bathroom on your floor.
You cannot be discriminated against. If you’re well qualified for a promotion and you’re denied that promotion because your boss feels you will not have enough time for the work duties after the baby is born, that’s a discriminatory act. Your co-workers cannot harass you or make rude comments about your changing body.
While you’re not protected from general lay-offs, you are protected against lay-offs when your employer makes it clear that pregnant workers are the first to get cut. If this happens, you should talk to a pregnancy discrimination attorney.
A pregnant grocery store worker requested a schedule change to accommodate her pregnancy. The store denied her request, leaving her no choice but to quit. The U.S. EEOC filed a pregnancy discrimination complaint against the store, and they had to pay a settlement of $30,000. In addition, the store must offer additional training regarding anti-discrimination in the workplace. Education is crucial and a leading reason why it’s so important to report cases of discrimination.
Disability Insurance vs. Paid Family Leave
You have a right to claim disability insurance and Paid Family Leave benefits. Timing is important.
While you’re staying home with your newborn, the loss of income can be alarming. Before you push yourself to return to work before you’re ready, look into the two ways you can get paid in the last few weeks of your pregnancy and after your baby is born. It’s possible to get up to four months of leave, depending on the number of hours you work each week and if your employer has five or more employees.
Suppose your OB/GYN informs you of a pregnancy-related disability, such as being bedridden after premature labor begins four weeks before your due date. You’re unable to continue working. If you have a doctor certifying that you are unable to work because of your pregnancy, you can claim disability insurance.
Some of the common qualifying reasons for pregnancy disability leave include:
- Doctor-ordered bed rest
- Gestational diabetes
- Pre-eclampsia (pregnancy-induced hypertension)
- Postpartum depression
- Severe morning sickness
After your child is born, if the delivery prevents you from being able to return to your job, you can also ask for disability benefits until you’re able. If your job requires you to lift heavy boxes and you’ve had a C-section, you would be unable to complete your usual job.
Generally, births without medical complications allow you to claim disability up to four weeks before your delivery date and up to six weeks after. If you have a C-section it’s usually four weeks before your delivery date and up to eight weeks after. This is up to your doctor to determine during your prenatal and postnatal appointments.
Paid Family Leave provides paid leave to bond with a new child. Claim it after your OB/GYN clears you to return to your normal work duties and you’ve used up your disability insurance. If your infant or child is seriously ill, under California Family Rights Act Leave, you may qualify for up to 12 weeks of leave if you’ve worked a minimum of 1,250 hours in 12 months.
There are rules you need to meet, so not everyone will qualify. You must have paid into California SDI for a minimum of five of the last 18 months. You cannot have taken the maximum of eight weeks of Paid Family Leave in the past year. You must have given birth to a child in the past year.
Breastfeeding and Lactation Laws
Once you return to work after having your baby, lactation laws are in place to enable you to express breast milk in a private, comfortable setting. The room that you’re offered must have a locking door, not be a bathroom, have a chair and outlet for your pump and cellphone, and have a refrigerator and sink.
Your employer must allow you time every day to pump, though this time doesn’t have to be paid. You do not have to provide medical documentation proving you are breastfeeding your child.
It is important to note that some employers may be exempt from lactation laws. If your employer has fewer than 50 employees and feels your extra breaks would seriously disrupt business operations, it’s exempt from breastfeeding laws.
What if you work in the same building as your infant’s daycare? It’s important to talk to your HR department as you might be allowed to breastfeed your child during breaks and your lunch. In California, there is no time limit on how many months you’re allowed to express your milk. If your child is a year old, you’re still protected.
Your company should give you time to express your milk, but they refuse. What do you do? The fines for violations of lactation accommodation laws are $100 per violation. You should talk to an expert in pregnancy and breastfeeding laws in the workplace.
New Federal Laws Are Soon to Take Place
On December 30th, President Biden signed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) and Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP Act). They’re due to go into effect in 180 days (PWFA) and 120 days (PUMP Act) from December 30th.
These laws do not do too much more than California laws currently cover. The PUMP Act protects salaried workers as well as others, but it requires additional measures if an employer doesn’t provide reasonable breaks or accommodations. Women must report issues of non-compliance to their employer and give their employer ten days to correct the situation.
PWFA builds upon the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Pregnant women are now entitled to reasonable accommodations, even if they do not have an underlying medication condition. But, it does offer an exemption to religious organizations that do not want to provide paid leave to a woman who requires an abortion or another reproductive care service that violates that organization’s religious beliefs
Pregnant or nursing moms should not quietly sit back and let their employers violate pregnancy discrimination and lactation laws. Your rights are there to help you bond with your child and be able to balance a career and motherhood. If you feel your employer isn’t acting within the law, contact an attorney who specializes in pregnancy discrimination laws.
Shegerian Conniff has helped many women get fair treatment in the workplace. All consultations are free of charge, so don’t let your financial status stop you from reaching out and asking if you have a case. If we take your case, you do not pay us until we win your case. Reach us online to arrange a free, confidential consultation