Key Tips on Workplace Rights & Family Leave

By Cortney Shegerian & Heather Conniff

Being pregnant and having a baby is one of the most joyous events in a person’s life, but it can be stressful when it comes to notifying your employer of your pregnancy and having to take time off of work. Additionally, after a woman gives birth and considers breastfeeding at work, she may initially fear the inconvenience of doing so in the workplace and asking for her entitled breaks, or she may feel pressured to stop breastfeeding because of the typically harassing or unaccommodating environment. 

California laws protect the rights of pregnant and lactating mothers in the workforce. There are different types of pregnancy disabilities that women are may face, such as severe morning sickness, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, or pregnancy-induced hypertension. Women who are suffering from these conditions are entitled to disability leaves and various other accommodations to avoid further complications with their pregnancies. Additionally, once a woman has her baby, there are accommodations that are needed, which she is entitled to under California law; maternity leave, bonding leave, and breastfeeding/lactation breaks. 

Listed below is everything that expecting and new mothers need to know about their rights in the workplace. 

What Are You Entitled to as a Pregnant Employee? 

California employers with more than five employees are entitled to provide pregnant women with up to four months of disability leave in the event they suffer from a pregnancy related disability. The four months of leave can be split up throughout the pregnancy. Depending on how generous the employer’s leave policy, some women may be qualified for even longer disability leaves than four months. 

If an employer’s policy allows for anything less than four months, the employer still must comply with the law anyways and allow pregnant employees up to four months off.

Pregnancy Disability Leave vs. Vacation Time vs. Sick Time

Even though employers are required to provide pregnant women with four months of disability leave, they are not required to pay for the employee during that time. However, if employers offer paid leave to other temporarily disabled workers, then the employer must pay pregnant women on disability leave as well. Pregnant women also have the option of using some or all of their sick time so in order to be compensated during a portion of their disability leave. Employers can also require pregnant women to use their sick time for their disability leave; however, they cannot require them to use their vacation time.

Even though employers are not required to pay pregnant women on disability leave, they still are required to provide them with the same benefits they receive when they are actively working.

What Happens When You Return from Pregnancy Disability Leave?

Generally, employers should place pregnant employees returning from leave back in their original position. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. The law allows for an employer to move employees to other positions after they return from disability, as long as the new position is comparable to the position the employee previously held. 

If an employer states that it was impossible to return a pregnant employee back to her original position or move her to another comparable position, the employer has to be able to prove that there are no comparable positions available to place the pregnant employee in when she returns. Therefore, an employer must show there were no positions that the employee qualified to work for that were open when she was released to return to work, or within 60 days of this date, in order for the employer to avoid legal trouble. 

Maternity Leave & Baby Bonding Leave

Pregnant employees are also entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave from their employers, as well as 12 weeks of baby bonding leave. However, an
employer is only eligible for baby bonding leave if the employee (1) has been with the company for one year; (2) has worked for at least 1,250 hours; and the (3) the employer has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius of the location of the employee works at. 

When an employee returns to work from maternity or baby bonding leave, an employer is required to provide that employee with their same position or comparable position. Whether your maternity leave is paid or unpaid is up to the employer. 

Adequate Location & Break Time For Expressing Breast Milk At Work

Because mothers are only allowed a certain number of weeks of maternity leave, many are still breastfeeding when they return to their jobs. The typical maternity leave of 12 weeks means that babies are still nursing at least 4-5 times per day. 

California Labor Code requires that employers provide accommodations for mothers wishing to “express” breast milk at work, and these accommodations must be adequate both in terms of time allowed and location. “Expressing milk” includes both pumping and actual breastfeeding since both actions involve expressing milk. Many employers may fail to interpret the law to this extent, so it up to lactating employees to make sure their rights are not being violated.

Employers must also provide break time for women employees who pump breast milk for their children. Most women will need at least twenty minutes every 2-3 hours for expressing milk at work, as well as time to prepare and clean breast pump equipment before and after expressing. 

Employers must also provide an adequate space for women to breastfeed or pump, i.e. a private room. It is unlawful for an employer to require a lactating employee to use a space that is equipped with security cameras or in a restroom. 

Giving Notice to Your Employer 

As soon as you are aware of your pregnancy disability, you should inform your employer and provide them with a doctor’s note if possible. However, in emergency situations where the woman’s health or the health of her baby are at risk, it is not necessary to provide your employer with adequate notice. In emergency cases, employers cannot retaliate against you for not providing advance notice.

Often times employers will ask employees to provide a doctor’s note requesting disability leave on behalf of the employee. This is a normal request, and you should obtain a doctor’s note authorizing your disability leave and provide it to your employer.

After informing your employer about your leave, your employer should provide you with the same position at the same pay when you return from your disability leave.

Shegerian Conniff LLP specializes in helping pregnant women who are being discriminated against in the workplace and seeking just compensation for these injustices. To learn more, visit shegerianconniff.com!