California law brings significant protection for pregnant employees. In addition to prohibiting discrimination or harassment in regards to pregnancy status, the law California requires an employer to allow an employee disabled by childbirth, pregnancy or related medical conditions to take a leave of absence and to maintain her health insurance during the pregnancy leave. It also mandates the employer to provide other forms of reasonable accommodation as necessary. The requirements to the pregnancy discrimination regulations that took effect seven years ago expanded the protections in several regards, including an expanded definition of the conditions that might render a woman disabled by pregnancy and the extension of protections to employees perceived as pregnant or disabled by pregnancy even if she is not actually pregnant.
The depth of protection for pregnant employees under the California law presents a challenge for companies and creates a number of varied issues and legal claims. But one aspect of these laws that causes or contributes to some of the issues related to pregnancy we see has to do with a fundamental aspect of the laws that does not get a lot of discussion: To stay compliant with the laws and avoid claims for pregnancy discrimination, an employer needs to have common sense.
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If a pregnant woman is unable to perform the essential functions of her job, the employer is mandated to treat her as a temporarily disabled employee. This means that the employer must make the same accommodations as it would for an employee who cannot perform some or all of his or her job functions due to a temporary disability. This might include changing some of the job functions, having the pregnant employee do alternative functions or offering the employee paid or unpaid leave.
Employers aren’t required to give pregnant employees preferential treatment. Their duty is to treat them equal to other employees and not to discriminate against them in any employment decisions because of the pregnancy. Employers are allowed to terminate pregnant employees for excessive absences from work, even if those absences were caused by reasons related to pregnancy.
California law requires that an employer does not act on those assumptions but to instead handle each situation as unique and not one in which the employer’s history might repeat itself. To many businesses and managers not as familiar with California law, making decisions that ignore experiences in the past and common sense may seem bad for business. But in dealing with issues related to pregnant employees, employers need to in some extent ignore what has happened in the past with pregnant employees and resist making decisions based on what it expects to happen no matter how likely the outcome will be predicted. A busy manager concerned about staffing and meeting the needs of the company might understandably find it hard to do so. But even an absence of any hostility toward the pregnant employee and a singular focus on preparing for the very real possibility that the pregnancy and the employee’s plans after pregnancy will adversely affect business will not necessarily protect the employer. When dealing with pregnancy topics in the workplace, good intentions and reliance on past experience might not provide a defense.
Do you have a question about pregnancy laws in the workplace in California? Click here to contact Von Esch Law today!
Courtesy of Cuselleration