Can a Pregnant Employee Be Fired in California?

Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace happens often and according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, is considered as harassment.  There is no good time to get fired from your job, but being fired while you are pregnant may, in fact, be the worst possible time, especially if you are counting on the income to pay for the increased costs of childcare. Employees who are pregnant in California are entitled to significant protections on the job, but does that mean that a pregnant employee cannot be fired while pregnant? Not exactly.

You Can Be Fired, But Not on Account of Your Being Pregnant

Essentially, you cannot be fired from your job simply for being pregnant or for having a pregnancy-related disability which requires you to take time off work, but you can be fired for other legal reasons unrelated to your pregnancy. For example, if you violate the code of conduct at work or the company is experiencing economic difficulties which require it to make layoffs, then these could potentially be valid reasons to terminate your employment.

That said, the company cannot terminate you because you are pregnant (nor can they refuse to hire you or demote you due to pregnancy), and then simply give you a “legal reason” as an explanation if it is not the real reason. If they do fire you or demote you for being pregnant, either overtly or through a falsely-stated reason, the employer can be liable for violating state and federal employment laws, and you may be able to recover damages.

This raises the question of how an employee can prove that an employer fired her on account of her pregnancy when there was a “legal” stated reason. This is where working with an experienced employment discrimination attorney comes into play. Your attorney can collect evidence through document requests, depositions of managers and co-workers, and other forms of discovery to help make your case for illegal pregnancy discrimination at trial.

What About Pregnant Employees Who Cannot Physically Do the Job?

Employers often (illegally) discriminate against pregnant women based on concerns that the employees will be a drain on company resources (such as exercising their right to maternity leave policies), will be preoccupied with family responsibilities, and so on. But there are situations in which there is a more pressing concern that a particular woman cannot do the job because of the pregnancy or complications from the pregnancy.

Under California law, employers with 5 or more employees are required to provide up to 4 months of “pregnancy disability leave” (PDL) to deal with or recuperate from health conditions (of either the mother or child) related to the pregnancy, birth, or end of the pregnancy. Although this leave does not have to be paid, the employer does have to restore the woman to her position after she exercises her right to PDL (note: the 4 months of leave does not all have to be taken at once). In addition, a woman can also request different responsibilities which she can do without taking leave, and the employer must make reasonable accommodations on her behalf.

If the woman is still suffering complications that make her unable to fulfill the obligations of her previous position, the employer should make reasonable accommodations to provide her with similar work, and thus cannot fire her if such reasonable accommodations can be made.

Determining what is and is not a reasonable accommodation can be a challenging legal analysis based on the particular circumstances, and affected employees are encouraged to speak with an experienced California employment attorney to determine their rights on the job both during and following pregnancy.