Women’s and Civil Rights Groups Applaud Approval of Revised FEHC Pregnancy Regulations
Confirming California’s role as a leader in protecting the rights of working pregnant women, the Fair Employment and Housing Commission’s (FEHC) revised pregnancy regulations were approved on November 30th.
When these regulations become effective on December 30, 2012, they will clarify the legal requirement that employers provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women, such as chairs, frequent bathroom breaks, and assistance with heavy lifting. While a 1999 amendment to the Fair Employment and Housing Act required employers to provide these accommodations, updated regulations were needed to conform to these statutory changes. In 2011, the law was amended again to compel employers to continue workers’ health insurance during pregnancy disability leave.
The new regulations provide helpful guidance to employers and employees about safeguards for pregnant women in the workplace. Providing these accommodations is the responsibility of employers and can be critical to the well-being of workers. For example, Laura worked as a program counselor at a facility for people with disabilities. During her pregnancy, on her doctor’s advice, she asked to be relieved from bending and twisting when securing wheelchairs to a bus. Her employer refused, forcing her onto unpaid leave and threatening to fire her if she did not return in four months. The four-month deadline coincided with her due date. Once a legal advocate informed Laura’s employer of their obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation under the law, Laura was reinstated, paid back wages, and given the modification she needed.
But many pregnant workers do not realize they are entitled to these accommodations and do not seek legal help. The revised regulations will make it clearer to employers and employees alike that pregnant workers are fully protected in the workplace. In addition to explaining an employer’s duty to provide reasonable pregnancy accommodations and to continue health benefits during pregnancy leave, the final FEHC regulations also
- clarify that it is unlawful for an employer to require a pregnant woman to take a leave of absence when she has not requested leave;
- explain that employers must provide lactation accommodations to nursing mothers;
- list examples of conditions that entitle a woman to take up to four months of job-protected pregnancy disability leave, including gestational diabetes, loss or end of pregnancy, and post-partum depression; and
- describe an employer’s obligation to grant extended leave beyond 4 months if an employee has a qualifying disability under the FEHA.
A coalition of women’s and civil rights organizations* provided essential comments and testimony on the proposed regulations during a two and a half year period, and helped ensure that the final regulations provide the protection to pregnant workers that the Fair Employment and Housing Act mandates. The coalition applauds the approval of the regulations, and looks forward to seeingimproved employer compliance with the Act.
Noah Lebowitz, Board Member of coalition member California Employment Lawyers’ Association said: “This is a great day for all Californians. The clarity provided by these regulations will empower working pregnant women to know and exercise their rights and will simultaneously provide an easy-to-understand guide for employers to comply with the provisions of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. The result will surely be an increase in employment and a reduction of litigation.”
According to Sharon Terman, Senior Staff Attorney at the Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center, “California has long been a leader in providing broad protections for working pregnant women. We are thrilled that the final regulations reflect the intent of the law and confirm these basic rights.”
Jennifer Reisch, Legal Director at Equal Rights Advocates, noted that, “Allowing valuable employees to continue working throughout their pregnancies whenever they can makes sense for families andbusinesses. We are very pleased that these regulations uphold the letter and spirit of California’s pregnancy accommodation law.”
The following organizations gave input and helped shape the revised pregnancy regulations:
- American Association of University Women–California
- California Commission on the Status of Women
- California Employment Lawyers Association
- California Women’s Law Center
- California Work and Family Coalition
- Center for WorkLife Law, UC Hastings
- Equal Rights Advocates
- Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center
- Women’s Employment Rights Clinic of Golden Gate University Law School