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What to expect at work when you’re expecting (California edition)

June 5, 2015

Pregnancy-Discrimination-WorkplaceThere are lots of ways to say it — the stick is blue, the stork is coming, there’s a bun in the oven, you’re harboring a fugitive — but it all adds up to the same thing: you’re pregnant.

We sincerely hope worrying about work is the last thing on your mind. But we also think you’ll rest easier knowing the ins and outs of pregnancy in the workplace. (And if you haven’t heard, rest is soon going to be in short supply.)

So here are the basics:

  1. California has got your back. California law is extremely strict when it comes to pregnancy. Discrimination or harassment on grounds of pregnancy is completely prohibited. And the law takes an expansive view about what “pregnancy” means — it includes serious prenatal issues requiring bed rest, less serious matters like morning sickness or pregnancy related fatigue, and even just additional time needed for normal doctor visits. If your boss or coworker is making snide comments about your prenatal appointments or morning sickness, they’re looking at a lawsuit. Think of it as an expensive shower gift.
  2. Doesn’t matter if you’re a brand new employee. There is no waiting period for protection to kick in for most purposes. (Bonding leave, discussed below, is an exception.) If your pregnancy is announced the first day you’re hired, you’re still protected.
  3. Doesn’t matter if it’s a small company. The pregnancy disability and discrimination laws apply to companies with as few as five employees (including you). Anti-harassment laws apply to companies with just a single employee.
  4. Accommodations must be made. If you can’t do everything you used to do, no one’s going to blame you. Your boss actually has to make accommodations to help you do what you can. For instance, you may be entitled to work from home. Or to a light duty assignment if you can’t lift boxes or other heavy things. Or to avoid work entirely if you are put on bed rest. Ask your employer if you are having trouble, and they’re obligated to discuss with you ways to make it easier.
  5. You’re entitled to a long leave if you need it. California employees disabled as a result of pregnancy are entitled to up to four months of leave. That doesn’t mean every pregnant employee gets all four months — the leave lasts only as long as the pregnancy-related disability. A normal pregnancy generally involves about 10 weeks of disability (four pre-partum, six post-partum), but if your doctor says you were disabled for longer, you get the leave.
  6. You may be entitled to a really long leave. If you meet the criteria for FMLA or its California partner CFRA leave, you are also entitled to 12 weeks off to bond with Junior. And bonding leave generally does not run concurrently with disability leave. So pregnant employees who qualify for bonding leave can get up to seven months of leave — up to four month’s disability and up to three months bonding.
  7. You and your spouse can even get some money. Employers aren’t usually required to pay you if you take pregnancy disability leave or bonding leave. But California does provide a short amount of Paid Family Leave for new parents bonding with their offspring. And the employer generally has to keep your benefits going during your leaves. It ain’t Denmark by a long shot, but better than a sharp stick in the eye.
  8. Your doctor — not the company’s doc — is in charge. When it comes to pregnancy disability, if your doctor says you’re disabled, you’re disabled. You may need to provide medical certification of the need for leave, but the employer can’t get a second opinion. And all your doctor needs to say is (1) you are disabled as of a particular date, (2) you’re probably going to be disabled for a particular time, and (3) a general statement that the employee can’t work at all or can’t do some of the job functions without risk to mother or child.
  9. In most cases, you get your old job back. If you come back directly after your disability ends, you are generally entitled to be reinstated to your old job. (Unless it doesn’t exist anymore, for reasons other than that you left work to have a baby.) If you take bonding leave too, you must be returned to a comparable job, but not exactly the same one you had before.
  10. You don’t have to pump in the restroom. Under both California and federal law, employers have to provide appropriate time and private space for new mothers to express breast milk. And no, a bathroom stall doesn’t qualify.

Very best wishes on the impending arrival! Take care of yourself and your baby.

And if you need to take care of your job, too, well, now you know what you need to know.

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