Over the past few decades, the percentage of women who continue to work while pregnant has grown. According to a Pew Research report, about two-thirds of women expecting their first child stay on the job during most of their pregnancy. Those women are also generally working until just a few weeks before the birth, a dramatic shift compared to a few decades ago, and returning to their career sooner than ever.

Employers must account for this. In California, that includes adhering to both state and federal laws offering protections or accommodations for pregnant employees. Here are three important things to know about this.

California law allows for parental bonding leave. 

Two California laws – the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and the New Parent Leave Act (NPLA) – offer workers time off to bond with a new child, whether due to birth, adoption or the start of foster care. Both provide 12 weeks of time off to parents within one year of the child’s arrival, though those parents must have worked for the company for at least one year and have logged 1,250 service hours or more over the past 12 months. (In this way, these laws mirror the federal Family and Medical Leave Act requirements.)

This time off does not have to be paid. However, in many cases, an employer can require the worker to use vacation time, sick time or paid time off as part of the leave. (That portion of which would be paid.) An employee could also choose to use accrued time off. The employee has some flexibility to take the 12 weeks off in separate blocks, subject to certain restrictions.

The only major difference between the two laws is that CFRA applies to employers with 50 or more workers, while NPLA applies to companies with 20-49 workers.

Pregnancy disability leave is separate from parental bonding leave. 

Under California law, Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) is separate from CFRA and NPLA, and applies to employers with five or more workers. If an employee has a pregnancy disability that prevents them from doing the job, or if the job would put them at risk, they can take up to four months off from work.

These disabilities can be physical or mental, and include:

  • Severe morning sickness
  • Prenatal or postnatal care
  • Need for bed rest
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension
  • Preeclampsia
  • Post-partum depression
  • Lactation conditions
  • Loss or end of pregnancy, including recovery

Employers can require medical certification and may also have employees use sick time. However, employers cannot require the worker to use vacation time or paid time off.

Anti-discrimination laws contain job protections for pregnant employees.

Under all circumstances, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against a worker because they are pregnant, gave birth or are experiencing a related condition. This means an employer cannot demote or fire a worker for a pregnancy-related reason, and when that person returns from time off, they must be reinstated to the same (or a comparable) job.

Employers also must continue paying their share of health benefits for the worker during this legally protected time off.

Staying in compliance

The points above are a place to start in understanding your obligations as an employer. Employment laws contain many nuances, however, and to be confident about staying in legal compliance it is important to discuss your specific situation with an employment law attorney.