California employees who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should be aware of discrimination laws concerning the legality of firing a pregnant employee. For example, an employer may illegally attempt to force a pregnant employee to take an unpaid leave of absence or risk losing her job.
One pregnant employee working at a distribution center in Atlanta experienced this type of illegal discrimination firsthand. After a bout of morning sickness, she informed her supervisor that she was unwell. He responded that she could not take a break without a note from her doctor. She then went to her doctor, who gave her a note stating she should avoid heavy lifting while at work. However, after giving her supervisor the note, she was told to take it to human resources. Human resources informed the pregnant employee that she had to apply for an unpaid leave of absence or face termination. After researching the issue, the employee discovered that her employers were participating in discrimination and that women in her situation had taken the issue to court and won.
In 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed by the U.S. Congress, making it illegal to discriminate against an employee based on pregnancy-related conditions. In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act was amended, requiring employers to accommodate pregnant women with disabling conditions such as an inability to lift heavy objects. This protects employees who meet the legal definition of an impairment that limits a significant life activity.
In the event of a wrongful termination or a threat of retaliation, an attorney may help a concerned employee decide if she has a case against an employer. An attorney may also be able to help prove that a pregnant employee was illegally discriminated against. A terminated employee might seek compensation such as lost wages and other damages related to the termination.