Once a woman becomes pregnant, many aspects of her life may quickly change. She may have a hard time eating and sleeping, and she might develop concerning secondary health issues that could limit her ability to work.
Some women can work through all three trimesters of a pregnancy doing the exact same work they always have with no major challenges or risks. Others might develop gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and other medical conditions that put their health or even the life of their unborn child at risk.
There are federal laws, including a newly expanded rule about pregnancy accommodations, that aim to keep pregnant workers employed for as long as is feasible and prevent a pregnancy from derailing someone’s career ambitions. Companies in California will typically have a higher level of responsibility to workers than organizations in other states.
California expands on many existing federal rules
Recently, the passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act at the federal level helped enhance the protections for pregnant workers across the United States. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will now enforce the requirement to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers at companies with 15 or more employees.
Businesses will need to make reasonable efforts to work with an employee who has functional limitations generated by pregnancy. The worker should be able to ask for assistive technology, change job responsibilities or other accommodations and then return to their prior position and pay after the end of their pregnancy without any sort of retaliation. The same rules were already effective in California.
In fact, pregnancy accommodations were a requirement for businesses with five or more employees in California even before the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act passed. The law in California also provides less leeway for employers, as it does not offer an exemption or loophole for claims of undue hardship caused by a worker’s requests.
Simply put, if a worker has sufficient medical documentation affirming that they require certain accommodations, employers will generally need to cooperate with them even if it will impact the organizations’ operations or cost a substantial amount of money. California also has a state law, the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), that builds on the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which is what most pregnant women rely on to take unpaid leave after the birth of a child.
Operating a company in California will require that executives, human resources professionals and managers learn about the unique rules for California employers that differ from federal statutes to avoid expensive infractions and possibly worker-initiated litigation.