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What if an employee becomes pregnant?

On Behalf of | Apr 23, 2024 | Employment Law |

The news that an employee has become pregnant can create uncertainty about rights and obligations for the employee and the business.   The employee may be nervous about how her job will be affected and the business may be nervous about how to cover the position.

In California, the law gives pregnant employees plenty of protection (provided the employer employs at least five people). Failing to understand the relevant laws could land you in legal trouble as well as cost you a potentially valuable employee and the goodwill of others.

Don’t be shy in starting the initial conversation

A pregnant employee may be worried about your reaction. Approaching her to say you have heard about the pregnancy and are happy to discuss how you can help her is a good start. It shows you value the employee and would like to keep them. It can also break the trepidation that some employees may feel about approaching you, perhaps due to stories of friends who had bad experiences telling another employer about their pregnancies.

You need to come up with an individual plan

No two pregnancies are the same so what you did for one person may not work for another. Perhaps you had an employee who worked until two weeks before giving birth and all she needed was a few extra rest breaks. Others may need you to make much greater accommodations. The best thing to do is to let the employee know that she should keep you informed about her status.   Do not make assumptions about whether the employee can or cannot perform the job or begin to make job changes based on those assumptions.  Any limitations or restrictions on the employee being able to perform the job should be based on information provided by a health care provider.

How far do you have to go?

California employers with 5 or more employees must allow up to four months of unpaid pregnancy disability for employees who are disabled due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition.  The time off from work may need to be given before the baby is born.  For example, if the employee is placed on bed rest or experiences morning sickness, she may begin to utilize some of the four months of leave.   Alternatively, the employee may request a transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position based on advice from a physician.  If the transfer can be reasonably accommodated, the employer may need to allow it to occur.  Another possibility is that the employee requests certain accommodations.  For example, the employee may need to work a reduced schedule or to take more breaks.  Such requests must also be considered by the employer.

Following the birth of the baby, the employee may be entitled to baby bonding leave under the California Family Rights Act or the Family Medical Leave Act.  If eligible, the employee could be entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to bond with the newborn. In addition, the employee may be entitled to additional leave if disabled for a longer period than the pregnancy disability leave law allows.

If you are unsure how to navigate the various obligations summarized in this blog, consider seeking legal advice to avoid stepping on any legal landmines.