In 2018, a California Highway Patrol lieutenant commander applied for a promotion to captain. After scoring high on the placement tests and going for an interview, she learned she wasn’t chosen. After applying for a second job opening, she was asked how she could “be available as a single mom?” She filed an employment discrimination complaint against the department.
Nike had to make sweeping policy changes after several of their celebrity spokespeople spoke up about facing reduced salaries if they became pregnant. One Olympian was asked to take a 30% salary reduction after she returned to work following her daughter’s birth. When she went and asked for accommodations to her contract, Nike refused. Pressure from athletes and the U.S. Congress eventually led them to change their policies, guaranteeing that pregnant athletes would get their pay and bonuses for eight months before giving birth and ten months after.
Amazon’s faced more than a half-dozen lawsuits from pregnant women who lost their jobs after disclosing their pregnancies. A transgender man allegedly was demoted and harassed after he revealed his pregnancy to his supervisor.
Times are changing, but some employers are still behind those times. The U.S. Army recently announced changes to their policies for parents, such as:
- Pregnant officers can attend schools and classes necessary for promotions
- New moms get an extension on deployments or training if they’re still breastfeeding after a year.
- While breastfeeding, they get breaks to express their milk every two or three hours in a private space with a locking door, a refrigerator, a table, and a chair. Bathrooms are not suitable spaces.
- Soldiers who give birth get a year off of deployments, field training, and training events that are not near their homes. Single fathers and women undergoing fertility treatments are entitled to that same year to be with their child.
What are the laws? What counts and doesn’t count when it comes to workplace discrimination for people raising a family, trying to start a family, looking to adopt or foster a child, or planning to get married?
California Laws That Protect Workers From Discrimination
In California, workers are protected from age discrimination, genetic information, religion, disability, etc. One area also helps workers in terms of family status. Those protections include gender and sex and marital status. Gender and sex are especially important here as it protects workers from discrimination regarding childbirth, lactation/breastfeeding, and pregnancy.
- California Family Rights Act
The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) requires an employer to grant protections to a worker who must take time off to care for a newborn, adopted or foster care child, or grandchild. This protection lasts for a year from the time of adoption, fostering, or birth. It protects parents (birth, adoptive, and foster), grandparents, legal guardians, and step-parents.
You’re going to be stepping up and raising your grandchild. You tell your boss and you don’t get the reaction you expected. Instead, your employer tells you you’re being moved to part-time. If it’s related to the adoption, that’s discrimination.
- Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)
California’s FEHA protects workers from discrimination based on the protected categories. In this case, it would protect workers from discriminatory acts in the workplace based on gender, pregnancy status, or marital status.
Suppose you decide to get married. Your boss cannot tell you that you’re not going to get a promotion if you get married. It’s also wrong for your employer to tell you that you cannot have a promotion unless you get married.
- Family and Medical Leave Act
FMLA is a federal law that allows up to 12 weeks off in one year to care for a newborn within a year of the child’s birth, foster care or adoptions within the year of the child’s placement within the home, and coverage to care for a spouse, child, parent, or sibling during active duty. If the military member is seriously injured and needs care, FMLA increases to 26 weeks.
When you return from FMLA, you cannot be demoted to a lesser position. You cannot have your pay decreased while you’re away. FMLA laws require you to have worked for your employer for 12 months or 1,250 hours before you’ll get 12 weeks of parental leave. The employer has to have 50 or more employees within 75 miles.
- Paid Family Leave
California Paid Family Leave (PFL) provides benefits to people who need time off to care for an ill family member or bond with a new child. Some workers qualify for 60% to 70% of their weekly wages. That amount is based on the weekly wages earned for the past 5 to 18 months before the claim’s start date. What’s important to know is that PFL will not protect a job. To ensure your job is protected upon your return, you need to look at CFRA or FMLA.
- Pregnancy Disability Leave
Any pregnant employee, including transgender employees, who has a pregnancy disability is entitled to Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL). PDL is a California labor law that helps people with mental or physical health issues related to pregnancy. They’re allowed up to four months of PDL for each pregnancy. The leave is added to any additional leave available through the workplace, the California Family Rights Act, or the Fair Employment and Housing Act. A note from your doctor may be required.
If you do take PDL, you cannot be demoted or lose seniority. You cannot have any benefits, such as sick leave, taken from you. Your doctor recommends bed rest for the remaining five months of your pregnancy. You tell your boss and learn you’re going to be moved to a chat-based customer support job until the baby’s born. Months later, you talk to your boss and ask to be transferred back to management and are told that won’t happen. That’s not legal.
There are exceptions to all of these protections. Workplaces must have five or more workers. If you work for a company with only two co-workers, such as a small boutique, the laws do not apply.
Are You Being Denied a Promotion Due to Your Family Status?
With many workplace discrimination cases, there are underlying discrimination laws at play. You need to be able to prove that you didn’t qualify for a raise or promotion specifically because you were planning to get married, adopt or foster a child, or are planning to become pregnant. Be very careful at keeping track of conversations to have the evidence needed to back your complaint.
Single moms and dads, foster parents, or grandparents raising grandchildren do have rights in the workplace. So do men and women who plan to get married, become pregnant, or start dating. You cannot be denied a promotion on the grounds that you’ll be too busy to perform your new duties.
If you’ve been a victim of unfair treatment in the workplace, reach out to Shegerian Conniff for advice. Our employment law specialists fight for your rights and offer free workplace discrimination consultations to ensure you’re treated fairly. Call or message us today.