California Labor Law and Pregnancy Complications


Santa Nella, CA Although a new California labor law (effective January 2013) intends to prevent breast-feeding discrimination in the workplace, it may not help women like Katherine and Jessica. Katherine was fired after coming back from maternity leave and Jessica, 12 weeks pregnant, had her hours reduced in an attempt that she quits her job.

“I’ve heard stories about companies firing their employees because they say women put their children first and think we can’t do business at the same time,” says Katherine, “but I never thought it would happen to me." Katherine was fired by her employer, Bank of America, when she came back to work from mat leave.

“I was a banking center manager and the bank first demoted me to a banker, which meant a drop in salary of about $7,000 per year,” explains Katherine. “They didn’t give me a reason; they just said I was needed more in this area.” But Katherine believes they had a reason.

“Everyone says women are treated equal to men but the reality is we are not,” says Katherine. “Once I had a manager tell me that women prefer to work part time instead of full time because we prefer to stay at home. Well I disagree. We already do it all??"have babies and work full-time. And we do it well.”

Katherine had worked at the bank five years before she was told that she had 30 days to find a job anywhere else in the bank or she would be let go. “They didn’t give me a reason for that either,” she adds. “I had a high risk pregnancy and was out for almost a year. As soon as I found out I was pregnant I couldn’t go back to work. Then I had my normal mat leave of three months.

"I talked to HR; they had nothing in their records to back up these actions, no write ups, no negative reports. They just said there was no reason that I should be suffering these consequences. When I was first demoted I didn’t do anything about it: I figured the bank must know what it was doing. The second time I figured they were violating the California labor code and discriminating against me, because I was coming back from mat leave. But I know that pregnancy discrimination is against the California labor code.

"I was able to collect unemployment but it is ending December 23rd. And I have two young kids looking forward to their Christmas presents."

Jessica, 19 years old, is three months pregnant. She has worked at Subway for 18 months and during that time, she trained to become a supervisor.

“Ever since I told my boss that I was pregnant, he has cut my hours to where I can't pay my bills,” says Jessica. “And he said, 'I don't want you to become supervisor until after you have your baby because I don't want your hormones getting in the way’. I couldn’t believe it. Even though I am 19, I am very responsible and I have all the skills of a supervisor.

"When I confronted my boss, he said, ‘Down the road (meaning after I have my baby), if we think you can handle it, we will reconsider.’ Right now they are trying to train the new hires to be supervisor. And for the past few weeks I have worked just one day per week, and not even 8 hours, just 4 hours. Before I told them I was pregnant, I was working 8 hour shifts, 4-5 days per week. I had morning sickness and I think that is one reason why they cut my hours. But I feel fine now and I was hoping they could work a bit with me. Instead they figured I couldn’t handle my job.

"I think they are smart enough to know they can’t fire me because that would be discrimination so they are trying to get me to quit. They know I have to pay rent and bills. I have been on their case asking for more hours but they keep saying that I have to prove myself.”

Jessica says she has lost the motivation to work at Subway, but she doesn’t want to give them the satisfaction of quitting. She has never had any negative write-ups so there is no reason to fire her, other than the fact that she is pregnant. Her employer knows that the California labor law protects pregnant women. And now businesses must be ready to meet the challenges of implementing this new breast-feeding discrimination law.

Although the California Labor Code already requires employers to provide accommodations for women who are breast-feeding, this new law goes a step further by providing additional recourse for women who have encountered breast-feeding discrimination. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, employers should first consider updating their employee handbooks or implementing a breast-feeding policy. Second, employers should take seriously any complaints from employees relating to breast-feeding and should treat these complaints with the same seriousness as they would a complaint based on race or age discrimination.

“Subway has never said anything about my pregnancy on paper??"I guess they know that pregnancy discrimination is illegal."

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