Federal laws allow women to take 12 weeks off unpaid after having or adopting a baby. This law applies as long as the company has 50 or more employees within 75 miles, the employee has worked at least 1,250 hours in the past year, and have been with the employer for at least a year. If women work for a smaller company, the company doesn’t always have to offer pregnancy leave, though some do anyway. Some states offer additional protections. If you’re on pregnancy leave, you are protected by these labor laws.
What happens if your position is terminated while you’re on maternity leave? It does happen, and it’s wrong. These are the steps to take if you’re fired while on pregnancy leave.
Know What Your Employer Can and Cannot Do
Under California law, you are protected against discrimination and harassment due to your pregnancy. Until you give birth or go onto maternity leave, your employee must accommodate you by transferring you to a less taxing position, if possible, and by providing accommodations like a chair or more frequent breaks for snacks or bathroom trips. If you’re dealing with pregnancy complications, Pregnancy Disability Leave also allows up to four months of time off, depending on what your doctor recommends, and then return you to the same job you left.
Once you give birth, California’s Family Rights Act of 1993 gives you up to 12 weeks of maternity leave as long as you’ve worked at that company for a full year or longer and work at least 1,250 hours in the past year. This leave may be unpaid, though some companies have other arrangements in place to help you get some pay during that time.
You have to be reasonable and tell your employer about the baby’s due date at least 30 days in advance. That’s one of your obligations. You also need to know that if layoffs occur and you’re selected for layoffs, that doesn’t break the rules of CFRA, unless you can prove you were chosen solely because you were on maternity leave. If your whole department was laid off, it’s understandable that you would have been laid off too, which makes the termination valid and legal.
If it’s discovered you violated company policy or made a costly mistake right before going on pregnancy leave, the company may have a valid reason for terminating your decision. For example, if it’s discovered that you were stealing company supplies, your employer had every right to fire you, even if you are currently on maternity leave. You won’t have a case against them.
What Do You Do?
Keep track of everything you’ve done up until you go on maternity leave. Keep tracks of emails sent notifying your management of your plans. Ideally, you need to have informed your employer of your last day of work at least 30 days in advance. Early labor may change those plans, but that’s a medical emergency that is understandable. Make sure you’ve been proactive at keeping your managers and HR department updated so that they have time to plan accordingly.
Make sure you have a copy of your employee handbook. Carefully read over the areas regarding pregnancy leave. Comply with any rules that are listed in terms of advanced notice, keeping your boss informed on when you’re returning, and any accommodations you’ll need when you return. If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll probably need a place to pump milk during the day and store the breast milk.
If your position is terminated, ask if you could be transferred to another department. If you know they’re hiring in another area of the business and are qualified for that job, you should be transferred rather than fired outright. If you’re not offered the transfer, you have every right to ask why.
Talk to an attorney who specializes in maternity leave laws. If you suspect your job was terminated because you were on maternity leave, you need legal representation. An attorney can look at the situation and help you decide what to do next. Don’t worry about the cost. Most attorneys work on a contingent fee basis, which means they only get paid if they win your case. You cannot let a lack of finances stand between you and your rights. A legal consultation is risk-free and gives you answers.
If you’ve been terminated while on maternity leave, Shegerian Conniff is happy to help you understand your rights. We’re experts in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and wrongful termination. Let our compassionate, knowledgeable team help you get the justice you deserve. Call us for a free consultation. We’re here for you day and night at (310) 322-7500.