WHEN Otisha Woolbright became pregnant, her doctor instructed her to stop lifting 50-pound trays of chickens at Walmart.  Ms. Woolbright informed her boss about this and her boss said she had seen Demi Moore do a flip on TV while pregnant so being pregnant was “no excuse.” Her boss also told her if she couldn’t lift chickens, she could “walk out those doors.” Ms. Woolbright was afraid to lose her job so she kept lifting until she felt pain and had to be rushed to the hospital to check on a possible miscarriage.

Erin Murphy worked as a senior employee at Glencore, the world’s largest commodity trading company. She received excellent performance reviews for her work. When she became pregnant with her first child, she was told by her boss that her career would “definitely plateau.” When she got pregnant with her second child and wanted to discuss future career moves, her boss told her “You’re old and having babies so there’s nowhere for you to go.”

Rachel ountis as n award-winning op aleswoman at Merck.  She became pregnant and was laid off from work three weeks before giving birth.

The stories of these women were reported by the New York Times in an article titled Pregnancy Discrimination Is Rampant Inside America’s Biggest Companies. By no means are hese tories nique. Even though the law prohibits pregnancy iscrimination, the problem continues to affect pregnant employees in the workplace.

Pregnancy discrimination is defined as discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. Prohibited conduct includes firing, demoting, harassing, retaliating, refusing health benefits, denying promotion, denying medical leave, and treating a pregnant employee differently.  Under the law, pregnancy (and all its related medical conditions such as severe morning sickness, doctor-ordered bed rest, childbirth, recovery from childbirth) is considered a temporary disability. The employer must therefore give pregnant employees the same treatment and benefits that it gives to employees with other temporary disabilities.

Does a current employee have to tell the employer about the pregnancy?

If a current employee does not require or anticipate any kind of leave for medical visits or pregnancy-related sickness, and is otherwise able to perform the major functions of her job, she may choose not to share her pregnancy with her employer. However, if medical leave or visits are expected, the employee may have to ultimately disclose the pregnancy to the employer.

Can the employer require the pregnant employee to take a leave?

It is illegal for an employer to force a pregnant employee to go on maternity or disability leave while she is still able to work. Pregnant employees must be permitted to work as long as they are able to perform their jobs. If they have been absent from work as a result of a pregnancy-related condition and they recover, the employer may not require them to remain on leave until the baby’s birth. Also, an employer may not prevent them from returning to work for a predetermined length of time after childbirth.

Can the employer prevent a pregnant employee from doing certain tasks for health and safety concerns?

No. If the employee is able to perform the basic functions of her job without harm to herself and others, she must be permitted to keep doing her job during pregnancy. If she asks for a modification of her job duties, then the employer must treat the request in the same way as other requests made by temporarily-disabled employees.

What happens to the employee’s job while on pregnancy leave?

Employers must hold open a job for a pregnancy-related absence the same length of time jobs are held open for employees on sick or disability leave. Any leave, seniority, or reinstatement rights other workers get from the employer when they cannot work for health reasons should be available to pregnant women and new mothers who are temporarily physically disabled.

What are the remedies available to a discriminated pregnant employee?

Discriminated pregnant employees may recover the following remedies: back pay, hiring, promotion, reinstatement, front pay, compensatory damages, including emotional pain and suffering, punitive damages, and other applicable remedies. Aggrieved employees may also recover attorneys’ fees, expert witness fees, and court costs.

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The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com or our Facebook page Joe Sayas Law. [C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. is an experienced trial attorney who has successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, consistently selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is the recipient of PABA’s Community Champion Award for 2016.]

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