Pregnancy at Work

Download our FREE eBook for more information and tips for working pregnant mothers.

FREE EBOOK DOWNLOAD

Los Angeles Pregnancy Discrimination Lawyers

In California, numerous laws protect workers from being treated unfairly because they are pregnant, have given birth, or have health issues related to pregnancy. This means an employer can’t make a worker’s life hard because they are pregnant or have just had a baby. These protections exist to make sure everyone is treated equally at work and to ensure that mothers are not economically disadvantaged by having children.

Despite these rules, pregnancy discrimination remains all too common in California and nationwide.

Leading Advocates for Pregnant Workers Across California

Our experienced pregnancy discrimination attorneys are committed to helping women and new parents stand up for their right to have children and earn a living wage. We are one of the only firms in the state that specifically focuses on pregnancy discrimination cases. We are leaders in this field, and we are activists for working parents’ and pregnant employees’ rights. We take on a wide range of cases, including cases with a relatively small dollar value. We want to change the playing field so new mothers and all family caregivers can fairly compete in our economy.

We will not stop until employers no longer fire pregnant workers because hiring a temp is too much of a “hassle.” We will not stop until employers no longer fire pregnant employees to avoid paying for medical insurance during their leave. We will not stop until firing you or discriminating against you is not just a “cost of doing business.”

If you believe you are being discriminated against in the workplace because you are or were pregnant, King & Siegel LLP welcomes you to call our legal team today at or contact us online for a free review of your case.

This article breaks down the numerous laws that protect pregnant workers and new parents.

Laws Prohibiting Pregnancy Discrimination

The California Fair Employment and House Act (FEHA) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)

Pregnancy discrimination is illegal at both the state and federal level.

Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on sex, which includes pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. This means that employers cannot refuse to hire, promote, or train an employee because of pregnancy, and they cannot harass or retaliate against an employee for exercising their rights. Both laws prohibit discrimination based on pregnancy, the capacity to become pregnant, or pregnancy-related health conditions.

An employer may be liable under Title VII or FEHA if they do any of the following to an employee because of their pregnancy or parenting needs:

  • Demote them, 
  • Reduce their pay or benefits, 
  • Harass them, 
  • Terminate them
  • Discipline them without reason,
  • Exclude them from employment opportunities or events, or 
  • Subject them to undesirable assignments or transfers.

To file a discrimination complaint under Title VII, your employer must have at least 15 employees, and you typically have 180 days to complain to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If you want to file a complaint under FEHA, your employer must have at least five employees, and you must initiate your complaint with the California Civil Rights Department within three years. 

Typically, California employees are best served by pursuing claims under California law. While the standards for liability are similar, state law provides broader remedies and avoids federal law’s limitations on the amount of damages an employee can recover. Learn more about proving pregnancy discrimination here.

Laws Requiring Accommodation of Pregnant Employees

The California Fair Employment and House Act (FEHA) and Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDLL)

The California Fair Employment and House Act (FEHA) and Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDLL) require employers with five or more employees to accommodate California employees’ pregnancy-related work restrictions. These restrictions often include lifting restrictions, modified equipment, modified work schedules, or temporary reassignment to less physically demanding job duties. An employer is obligated to provide reasonable accommodations unless they can show that the accommodations would pose an “undue burden” on their operations.

So what is an “undue burden”? In general, the cases and statutes suggest that an employer must demonstrate that the accommodation would be costly, disruptive, or fundamentally alter the nature of the employer’s business in order to establish an “undue burden.” It is the employer’s burden to prove that the accommodation would be unduly burdensome; it is not enough that the employer asserts that the accommodation would be challenging or expensive.

The Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which took effect in 2023, requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. The Act also prohibits employers from discriminating against pregnant employees in terms of hiring, firing, job duties, or benefits. This requirement is similar to Americans with Disabilities Act‘s requirement that employers provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities.

The PWFA was a landmark law at the federal level. Before it took effect, pregnant workers had to prove that pregnant workers were treated worse than other disabled workers. This burden prevented many women from bringing claims under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and encouraged a “race to the bottom” among employers, incentivizing denial of all accommodations to disabled and pregnant workers. Similarly, the Americans with Disabilities Act had gaps in its protection of pregnant workers: it only protected those with a pregnancy-related disability, meaning women with uncomplicated pregnancies were wholly unprotected. Because of these gaps, many women nationwide were forced to choose between working jobs that endangered their pregnancies and their family’s financial stability.

As with California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave Law, the PWFA requires employers who deny reasonable accommodations to demonstrate that providing the accommodation would present an “undue burden.”

Learn more about requesting accommodations here. You can also learn more about the PWFA here.

Laws Requiring Employers to Provide Job-Protected Maternity Leave

The Pregnancy Disability Leave Law

The PDLL provides California employees the right to take up to four months of leave if they are disabled by pregnancy. This leave can be taken intermittently or on a reduced work schedule, and employers are required to continue group health coverage during the leave. Employees must be restored to their exact job at the end of their pregnancy disability leave.

Notably, there is no minimum service requirement for using pregnancy disability leave. New employees are eligible, unlike under the CFRA and FMLA, discussed below. Employers may require medical certification before allowing employees to use pregnancy disability leave.

Practically speaking, most doctors certify that women are disabled during the four weeks before their estimated due date and the six to ten weeks after their delivery, depending on whether they delivered via a C-section or had other complications. Additional weeks of leave may be used for pregnancy-related medical conditions, including post-birth medical conditions like postpartum depression.

The California Family Rights Act

The CFRA provides further leave rights for pregnant employees in California, allowing eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of leave for family care or medical reasons, including the birth of a child. Employees are eligible if they have worked more than 1250 hours and been employed for at least one year. This leave is job-protected, meaning the employee is entitled to return to the same or equivalent position at the end of the leave. Employers are required to continue group health insurance coverage during CFRA leave. This leave is frequently referred to as “baby bonding leave.” In California, your time off under CFRA runs after your pregnancy disability leave. This means many workers are entitled to up to 7 months of maternity leave.

Employees may use their CFRA leave at any time during the first year after the birth of a child. For instance, a non-birth parent may use six weeks of CFRA leave when their baby is born, and the other six weeks after the birth parent returns to work. In addition, if an employee was not eligible for CFRA leave when their baby was born, they may be eligible at a later date before their child’s first birthday. In this situation, the employee could use baby bonding leave after the one-year anniversary of being hired, even though they were not eligible when their baby was born.

Parents are eligible for 8 weeks of paid family leave through the EDD. The other four weeks of CFRA leave are unpaid.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA)

There is no pregnancy disability leave law at the federal level, requiring workers to rely on the ADA and the PWFA for disability-related maternity leave. As discussed above, the ADA and PWFA require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees and pregnancy-related disabilities.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Workers outside of California must rely on the FMLA for job-protected baby bonding leave.

The FMLA provides for up to 12 weeks of leave for eligible employees due to the birth or adoption of a child, a serious health condition, or the need to care for a family member with a serious health condition (for instance, a partner with pregnancy-related disabilities). To be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must meet three requirements: (1) they must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months, (2) they must have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months, and (3) they must work at a site with at least 50 employees within 75 miles.

Employers may require medical certification to support a leave request, and the FMLA sets out specific information that must be included in the certification. This information includes the date the condition began, the probable duration, and the medical facts known to the provider. If the employer doubts the validity of the certification, they may request a second opinion from a different provider, and if the two opinions conflict, the employer may request a third opinion that will be binding on both parties. The FMLA also requires employers to maintain health benefits for employees on leave and to restore the employee to their position or an equivalent position upon their return from leave.

Laws Protecting Your Right to Pump at Work

The California Labor Code

California law specifically requires employers to provide reasonable break time and a private space for employees to express breast milk. Under Cal. Lab. Code § 1030, employers must provide break time each time an employee needs to express milk, and the break time should run concurrently with any break time already provided to the employee, if possible. If the break time does not run concurrently, it is unpaid. Cal. Lab. Code § 1031 further requires employers to provide a private space that is not a bathroom, is in close proximity to the employee’s work area, and is shielded from view and free from intrusion.

The PUMP Act and the FLSA

At the federal level, the FLSA requires employers to provide reasonable break time and a private space for nursing mothers to express breast milk. The FLSA does not specifically require access to a refrigerator or otherwise specify where an employee is entitled to pump. The PUMP Act, which expands on the FLSA, clarifies that the break time should be paid as working time if the employee is not completely relieved from duty during the break. However, the PUMP Act does contain some exemptions, such as for small employers who would experience undue hardship by complying with the law, and for certain employees of airlines, railroads, and motor coach companies.

Laws Protecting Your Right to Resume Your Career After Returning from Leave

Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Retaliation Laws

There are two primary legal frameworks that address discrimination against new parents.

First, laws prohibiting gender discrimination prohibit gender stereotyping, such as the assumption that new mothers are going to be unreliable employees or will no longer be focused on work. Employees who are harmed by these assumptions may have claims for gender discrimination.

Second, various laws prohibit retaliation for taking protected leaves of absence. The FMLA, CFRA, and PDLL all prohibit retaliation for exercising the rights guaranteed by law. This means that your employer cannot write you off because you exercised your right to take maternity or paternity leave.

Some jurisdictions also have laws that expressly prohibit discrimination based on caregiver status. California has not yet enacted a law prohibiting discrimination based on caregiver status. Similarly, there is no law at the federal level prohibiting discrimination based on caregiver status. This means that employees must rely on gender discrimination and retaliation theories of liability. In these cases, it is essential that you have experienced, knowledgeable lawyers with specific expertise in caregiver discrimination cases.

The Equal Pay Act

According to the US Census, women on average earn about 82 cents for every dollar earned by white men. This pay difference is even larger in certain jobs where qualities considered typically masculine are highly valued. For instance, in 2020, the National Women’s Law Center found that women working as financial managers earned only 65.3 cents for each dollar earned by men in the same job.

Mothers of all races face barriers to fair pay. Many women without children start their careers with similar pay to their male peers, but studies consistently show that women are disadvantaged when they become mothers, while men often benefit. Employers may assume mothers are less reliable, whereas fathers are seen as stable providers. A study in the American Sociological Review in 2018 reported that women’s earnings decrease by around 4% for each child, while men’s wages increase when they become fathers.

State and federal Equal Pay Act legislation prohibits wage discrimination based on sex. This applies where an organization pays mothers and fathers differently. Under state and federal Equal Pay laws, women and men cannot be paid differently for doing a “substantially similar” job. Prevailing plaintiffs are entitled to back pay, penalties, and attorneys’ fees and costs of suit.

What Does Illegal Pregnancy Discrimination Look Like?

Pregnancy discrimination takes many forms. In California, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee for any of these pregnancy-related reasons:

  • Wrongful Termination: It is illegal for your employer to fire you for having a child, being pregnant, or planning to become pregnant. Your employer also cannot terminate you because of “pregnancy-related medical conditions,” like being on bedrest, postpartum depression, or breastfeeding. With few exceptions, your employer cannot terminate you while you are on maternity or parental leave.
  • Hiring Discrimination: It is illegal to fire or not hire someone because they are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. In fact, employers are prohibited from asking female applicants whether they are pregnant or intend to become pregnant. However, many employers continue to ask job applicants about pregnancies and decline to hire pregnant women.
  • Discrimination in Job Duties: It is illegal for your employer to demote you or change your job assignment due to your pregnancy. Your employer must also let you work if you can perform your job and must allow you to return to work if you have been absent due to pregnancy or pregnancy-related health conditions (although they can require a medical certification to return to work).
  • Failure to Accommodate Work Restrictions: Your employer is required to make a good-faith effort to accommodate your pregnancy-related disabilities or work restrictions. This includes transfer to a less strenuous position, providing you with a modified work schedule, and providing you with modified equipment, among other things.
  • Failure to Accommodate Disability or Baby-Bonding Leave: If you are pregnant or recently had a child, it is illegal for your employer to refuse to allow you to take leaves for medical appointments, for a pregnancy-related disability, or for bonding after your child’s birth.
  • Pay Discrimination: It is illegal for your employer to pay you less because you recently had a child, because you are pregnant, or because you plan to become pregnant.

While pregnancy discrimination can take many forms, common instances of discrimination we help clients seek justice for include:

  • An employer firing a pregnant woman for “performance issues” shortly before her maternity leave so they can hire a full-time, permanent replacement.
  • An employer claiming that a pregnant employee’s performance, “focus,” or “dedication” has slipped since they had a child or became pregnant and denies them promotions or bonuses.
  • An employer “eliminating” a pregnant employee’s position while they are on leave and hires a new employee for a similar role who isn’t pregnant.
  • An employer demoting a pregnant worker so she will no longer be covered by the employer’s health plan during her maternity leave.
  • An employer firing a pregnant worker so it does not have to pay for her child’s premiums on the employer’s health plan.
  • An employer refusing to repurpose an empty office for a lactation room and instead forces a new parent to pump in the bathroom.
  • An employer counting absences for pregnancy-related medical appointments against the employee under a “no-fault” attendance policy.
  • An employer allowing its supervisors to mock a pregnant woman for being sick, being tired, or needing accommodations.
  • An employer failing to order cheap and readily-available equipment to protect a pregnant worker.
  • An employer refusing to allow a pregnant worker to sit down or take additional breaks
  • An employer openly questioning whether female employees who recently gave birth continue to be sufficiently “devoted” to the business.

How Can a Pregnancy Discrimination Attorney Help My Case?

When seeking an advocate, you should choose an attorney with a specific focus on pregnancy discrimination. They will be familiar with the complicated leave laws at play, the common medical issues that arise, and the damage that pregnancy discrimination does to the families suffering from it.

A skilled pregnancy discrimination attorney will help you gather the evidence needed to prove your claim. But that is just the beginning. We are sensitive to the needs of new parents and do everything we can to assess our clients’ goals, develop a personalized, tailored case strategy, and maximize the client’s value within those parameters.

Our office provides free case reviews for all potential pregnancy discrimination clients. This is a specialty area of practice and one that we are deeply passionate about.

Our experienced legal team also handles other types of discrimination cases, including:

Choosing the Right Attorney Can Make All the Difference

We Get Results

We go toe-to-toe with employers to get you the compensation you deserve.

Free, No-Strings-Attached Consultations

All consultations are 100% free. Not sure you have a case? That's fine. We're happy to learn more about your situation and point you in the right direction.

Clients Always Come First

We understand that our clients trust us with their most personal and critical legal issues. We do not take this responsibility lightly. You are not just a number to us.

We Are Passionate About What We Do

We started King & Siegel because we believe that the same aggressive, skilled, and passionate litigation tactics we learned at big firms could and should be available to workers and consumers in their most critical legal moments—when you are harassed, assaulted, demoted, fired, defrauded, or exploited by the institutions you rely on.

Our Firm is Dedicated to Excellence

We graduated from top-five law schools, including Harvard and NYU, and trained at the country's biggest and best litigation firms. As contingency attorneys, you don't pay us unless you win, which means our incentives are 100% aligned. We win if you win. It's that simple.