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Do I have employment rights during pregnancy? Can I get paid if on leave?

woman doctor.jpgIf you are a hospital employee and are pregnant or might become pregnant, this blog post is for you. Pregnancy could affect all stages of your employment, from hiring and firing to job assignments to post-birth time with your child. It is critical to know what your options are and how the law can protect you.

Both federal and California laws include provisions that protect pregnant women in the workplace. Figuring out which benefits apply can be challenging, however, because both California and federal laws apply. Determining how to obtain maximum benefits under both sets of laws often requires the help of an employment law attorney or other specialist.

Working in a hospital can be extremely stressful. It can also require heavy work, such as lifting and turning patients. Such workplace conditions can be challenging or even harmful, depending on one's medical condition. For example, if a doctor advises you to stop lifting for the duration of your pregnancy, your employer must accommodate your health-related needs. If your health care job involves working with radiation or highly toxic substances that could harm your baby, the hospital or clinic must permit you to change your job duties under most circumstances.

Federal Laws About Pregnancy and the Workplace

Here are some features of federal law that apply to expectant mothers. Note that federal laws generally do not require that an employer offer paid leave. These laws mostly provide for job protection while an employee is on leave because of pregnancy or related conditions.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), passed in 1993, allows eligible employees (those who work for companies with 50 or more employees) to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually for "covered events" that include pregnancy and time after the birth to bond with and care for the baby. However, there are other criteria for eligibility, such as number of hours worked by an employee. It is important to check to be sure that your workplace qualifies. Maternity benefits under the FMLA also apply to the adoption or foster-care placement of a child.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1988 and amended in 2008, requires employers to provide either leave or workplace accommodation (light duty, for example) for pregnant women who are experiencing complications that include pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and other medical conditions.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, passed in 1978, requires employers who offer unpaid leave or other benefits to some temporarily disabled employees (those who were injured in car accidents, for example) to offer the same benefits to pregnant women.

California Laws About Pregnancy and the Workplace

California law provides additional protections for pregnant workers, outlined below. The state laws generally cover more workers than the federal laws do and offer an option for temporary paid leave not available under federal law.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of gender and specifically references pregnancy,childbirth and related conditions. The law applies to employers with more than five employees, so health care workers at small clinics could be covered. It does not apply to religious and nonprofit organizations.

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) is similar to the federal law (FMLA). It requires employers to allow you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave and to return to the same or a comparable job, unless your position is eliminated for business reasons. Although the state law is similar to the federal law, there is an important difference. Pregnancy itself is covered by the FMLA, but it is not covered as a serious health condition by the CFRA, so this applies only to women whose pregnancies result in medical conditions that are considered serious. However, the California law does cover women who take 12 weeks of unpaid leave post-birth to care for their newborn babies.

The state's Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDL) requires employers with five or more employees to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid disability leave. It also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation and offer light duty or a job without hazards, if such actions would not create undue hardship for the employer.

California's Paid Family Leave (PFL) law provides temporary disability insurance to employees who take leave to care for a seriously ill family member or to bond with a new child. It offers up to six weeks of paid leave. In contrast, neither the FMLA nor the CFRA offers paid leave. This law also applies to pregnant women who need time off because of medical complications during pregnancy. The program is funded through payroll deductions.

To manage the different leave options to obtain maximum benefit and compensation requires in-depth knowledge of how the programs intersect. When working a demanding health care job as a nurse, physician, pharmacist, nursing aide or assistant, or clerical worker, a pregnant woman must consider her needs and those of her unborn baby. Federal and California laws provide numerous options that can combine to maximize compensation, preserve jobs and health insurance, and protect the health of both mother and baby.

When employers discriminate in employment practices because of pregnancy or create roadblocks that can affect the lives and safety of health care workers and their babies, they leave themselves open to legal action. If your employer has not followed the law related to pregnancy and post-delivery motherhood, you have the right to seek redress.

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