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Working with Postpartum Depression: Know Your Rights

Working with Postpartum Depression: Know Your Rights

Postpartum and peripartum depression (referred to as PPD) are the most common mental health disorders experienced after childbirth. New mothers deal with hormonal changes; chronic exhaustion; changes to relationships, routines, and priorities; and the stress of returning to a workforce that can seem hostile to working moms. This situation creates a whirlwind of emotion and can feel like overwhelming. For these reasons, between 10 to 15% of women are diagnosed with PPD after childbirth.

Women returning to work often are afraid to request additional leave or other accommodations for PPD. They may worry that their employers think they are “choosing” their child or no longer want to work. Unfortunately, these attitudes exist in some workplaces. But new parents suffering from PPD can arm themselves by understanding their rights.

If you work in California and want to understand your rights, learn more through our extensive resources collection or download or free guide and toolkit.

Is PPD a Disability?

Usually. State and federal law consider mental health disorders like PPD to be a disability when they interfere with your ability to work or live your life. PPD is recognized as a mental health disorder by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM-5) and by all major medical organizations.

Your Right to Reasonable Accommodations for PPD

Most employees are entitled to reasonable accommodations for PPD. This is important because work participation reduces risk factors for PPD by creating social support systems, greater financial resources, and continuation of employer-provided group health insurance, which women often need to continue a recommended course of treatment.

According to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), helpful accommodations can include:

  • Flexible work environments (flexible scheduling, work from home, flexible start time)
  • Leaves of absence for treatment and recovery
  • Job restructuring
  • Support animals
  • Modified attendance policies (e.g., no “points” on attendance policies for a period of recovery)

These are just examples. If you are struggling with PPD, you should speak with your medical provider about the accommodations that will help you work.

Can I Take Leave for PPD?

Probably. If you have FMLA or pregnancy disability leave left, you can use it for PPD. But even if your regular maternity leave is over, you probably are entitled to additional leave if it is not an “undue hardship” to your employer.

Whether leave would pose “undue hardship” is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The EEOC has issued guidance on factors to consider in whether a leave poses an undue hardship, including:

  • The length of leave requested;
  • The frequency of leave (if the requested leave is intermittent);
  • The impact on co-workers;
  • The impact on ability to serve customers/clients in a timely manner;
  • The size of the employer.

In general, it is less of a burden if you request a shorter leave, rather than a longer one. This is less disruptive to the employer and co-workers. Similarly, a larger employer should be able to accommodate additional leave more easily than a smaller employer. These are just generalizations, however, and are no substitute for advice about your specific situation.

You can learn more about what happens when you run out of FMLA/CFRA leave here.

Do I Have to Disclose My PPD Diagnosis to My Employer?

In California, the answer is no. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prevents employers from asking questions about the employee’s diagnosis. Your medical provider can write a note stating that you suffer from a serious health condition that interferes with your ability to do your job. They do not need to say that you have PPD. Your medical provider should also specify accommodations that will allow you to continue to work or keep your job.

Under federal law, your employer may ask about your diagnosis under certain circumstances, including if you are requesting FMLA leave. They are required to keep this information confidential and may only discuss it with managers and supervisors.

Can I Take Paid Pregnancy Disability Leave or Short-Term Disability Leave for PPD?

Maybe, if your medical provider will certify you for short-term disability with the State EDD or a private insurance plan.

Under California law, you can take up to 4 months of pregnancy disability leave for pregnancy-related medical conditions, including PPD. This means that your leave may look like this:

  • 4 weeks of pregnancy disability leave before baby is born + 6 weeks pregnancy disability leave after baby is born + 12 weeks leave under CFRA for baby bonding + 7 weeks pregnancy disability leave for PPD; OR
  • 4 weeks of pregnancy disability leave before baby is born + 13 weeks pregnancy disability leave after baby is born for recovery and PPD + 12 weeks leave under CFRA for baby bonding and PPD + additional weeks of short-term disability for PPD

Our Work on Behalf of Workers with PPD

We have represented women who were wrongfully terminated or denied accommodations for PPD. PPD is a serious medical condition like any other serious medical condition. At a time when you may feel overwhelmed with sadness, you should feel empowered to take the time you need to care for yourself and rebuild your life as a new parent. If you believe you have experienced discrimination, our experienced attorneys are here to help.

We provide free, confidential consultations to California workers. You should contact us as soon as possible to make sure your claim is still within the time limits set by law. Contact us today through our website or give us a call at (213) 214-3757 to schedule a free consultation.

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