What are My Rights as a Pregnant Employee During the Pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a frightening experience for everyone, but especially for those women who are expecting a child. Pregnancy already puts significant strain on your immune system, and researchers are still unsure about all of the possible effects of COVID-19 exposure on pregnant women and unborn babies. The CDC advises that pregnant women are at a higher risk of severe illness, including hospitalization, admission to the ICU, or mechanical ventilation. COVID-19 and its effects might also lead to preterm birth and other complications.

Having to go to work and risk exposure can be stressful, to say the least, and it is important to know your rights as a pregnant employee during the pandemic. The following are some common questions you might have regarding your rights during pregnancy, and you should discuss any specific concerns with an experienced employment discrimination attorney.

Can You Work from Home During the Pandemic?

In many workplaces, it is impossible to remain socially distanced or even wear a mask full-time to protect yourself from exposure to COVID-19. Most employers in California must provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women as necessary to perform their job duties due to pregnancy or related medical conditions. Accommodations should be made unless the employer can show such accommodations would cause undue hardship, and employers may never retaliate against an employee for requesting reasonable accommodations when warranted.

One possible accommodation is to allow an employee to perform her job from home if possible. If the job cannot be performed remotely, the employer should consider other accommodations to protect the employee, including a transfer to a new position, a change in job duties to minimize exposure, or taking time away from work.

Can You Take Protected Leave from Work?

California has the Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) Act in place that allows pregnant women up to four months of leave from work as needed due to disabling medical conditions related to pregnancy. Qualified conditions might prevent you from performing your job duties or if your job duties would present an undue risk of completing your pregnancy successfully. Your employer might require you to provide documentation from your medical provider that such leave is necessary.

During the pandemic, your doctor might determine that your work environment is too high-risk for you and your unborn child due to possible COVID-19 exposure. You might be able to qualify for PDL, which does not impact your ability to take leave after your child is born under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).

It is important to recognize that going on pregnancy disability leave does not always guarantee your job. The law prohibits your employer from terminating you because you took PDL, however, you might still be let go for other unrelated reasons. For example, if the company has to conduct layoffs due to the financial strain of the pandemic, and you would have been included in the layoffs even if you were working, you might still be terminated.

Employers may never terminate employees based on pregnancy, pregnancy or childbirth-related conditions or factors, or a request for valid PDL. This is true whether there is a pandemic or not. If you believe you have experienced pregnancy-related discrimination or another violation of your rights, contact an employment discrimination lawyer for help right away.