Work From Home and Maternity Leave – Everything You Need to Know About Your Rights

November 17, 2020

One thing is true, 2020 has been an unusual year. You’re expecting or just had a child, and that’s your key focus but questions arise regarding your rights and responsibilities.

If you’ve been working home for months, it’s because you work in a non-essential industry. You may have some essential jobs within your company, but those who are not essential have to stay home to stop the spread. Who makes that decision? Why are you still working from home, but other departments at your work are back in the office? How is this affecting your employment rights?

On March 19th, Governor Newsom issued an Executive Order and Public Health Order for non-essential workers to stay home. “Essential workers” is the key term here. Your job at a hydroelectric plant is to answer email inquiries, greet visitors, and answer the phones. That can be done from home as you won’t have customers to greet. Meanwhile, someone who maintains the equipment needs to be on-site. That’s why part of a company may be open and other parts are not.

Some gradual reopening started in May, but people are still being cautious. That led to the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” in August. This blueprint covers when businesses can reopen, and it’s based on daily new cases and positive tests.

  • Minimal – Most indoor businesses can reopen with protective changes like masks, plastic barriers, etc.
  • Moderate – Some indoor businesses can reopen with protective changes.
  • Substantial – Some non-essential indoor businesses must remain closed.
  • Widespread – Most non-essential indoor businesses must remain closed.

This means workers in several counties, such as Los Angeles County, Monterey County, Riverside County, San Bernardino County, are still working from home. The length of these orders has led to several companies opting to have workers stay home until 2021 or work from home permanently.

You’re pregnant, and it’s already a stressful time. You’re busy protecting both you and your baby from the virus. As weeks turn into months, you may end up having the baby before you’re back in the office. What happens then? What are your pregnancy and maternity leave rights before and after the baby is born?

Basic Rights and Protections in the Workplace Also Apply at Home

The same rights that apply to you in the workplace apply at home. As working from home may be new to both you and your employer, there may be more leniency than you expect. A good rule of thumb is to ask. Make sure you let your employer know that you’re pregnant and what your plans are as soon as you can.

You must be allowed reasonable bathroom breaks. This usually isn’t an issue at home as your bathroom is going to be nearby. Your employer doesn’t have to worry about making sure your desk is near a bathroom. You are allowed to ask for the equipment you need to get the job done. You might need to bring a work computer home. If there is equipment at the office that would help you at home during your pregnancy, such as a chair with advanced lumbar support or a footrest, your company may offer to let you bring that home or buy it for you.

Once the infant is born and you’re ready to get back to work, you have to be allowed time to express breast milk. In a home setting, your employer may simply opt to let you have that time to nurse your infant.

California Paid Family Leave (PFL) gives you up to four weeks of Disability Insurance before your due date and eight weeks of Disability Insurance after the baby is born. To qualify, you must have paid State Disability Insurance from your income in the past 8 months and not have taken eight weeks of PFL in the past year.

PFL pays 60 to 70% of your regular wages. It’s not your full income, but it’s at least paid wages that take the stress off as you bond with your new infant. CFL does cover infants and children that you adopt or foster.

Other rules that still apply include pregnancy discrimination. You cannot be fired simply because you’re pregnant. If a co-worker makes uncomfortable comments about your pregnancy that make you feel intimidated or offended, you’re protected from that harassment. If you speak up, you’re protected from retaliation, too.

Special accommodations are also a right during pregnancy. With a medical note, you can ask to be accommodated if some of your job duties are too strenuous, but this is not likely to be an issue when you work at home. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, companies have to provide the same accommodations to a pregnant woman as they would other employees receiving benefits under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Remember that in California, as long as an employer hires at least five workers, you have to be accommodated if you have health issues related to pregnancy and childbirth. Don’t let your employer convince you otherwise.

What if your office reopens and you’re not comfortable going to work? Talk to your employer and talk to your doctor. If it’s determined that the risk of COVID will cause undue stress, you and your doctor may agree that it’s best to continue to stay home for now. Your employer does have to take your doctor’s recommendations into play and accommodate you. If working from home was going well, your employer will likely continue doing that. If not, you cannot be forced to return to work.

Do take comfort in the numerous studies that have found that pregnant women are not more likely to contract the virus while pregnant. In women who did contract the virus, the symptoms were rarely serious. Most had mild symptoms. Bigger risks would be if you’ve been diagnosed with pregnancy-related high blood pressure or gestational diabetes. If you have, you should ask your doctor for a medical note.

Understanding the Different Components to Paid Family Leave and Families First COVID Leave

In addition to PFL, the pandemic led to the creation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) Emergency Paid Sick Leave, CA COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave, and FFCRA Emergency Paid Family and Medical Leave. These may apply to your pregnancy in specific situations.

Start with FFCRA Emergency Paid Sick Leave. If you have another child or other children who are not able to go to school or daycare due to closures, you’d be covered by two weeks of paid sick leave. You could stop working, for now, to care for your other child/children. This paid sick leave also applies if your doctor suspects you might have COVID.

CA COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave wouldn’t apply to you. It’s only for workers who are not able to work at home.

Finally, FFCRA Emergency Paid Family and Medical Leave is an important one if you have other children. If you cannot work from home because your child’s daycare and/or school are closed due to the pandemic, this would help you. You get up to 10 paid weeks off and 12 weeks total. Your first two weeks of time off are not paid. After that, it’s two-thirds of your usual wage. If you make $1,500 per week, you’d get $1,000 for paid leave. Note that if you took FMLA in the past year, you cannot claim FFCRA Emergency Paid Family and Medical Leave.

This year’s pandemic has challenged both employees and employers as workplaces shift and adapt to the changes. You may not fully understand your rights during pregnancy and after bringing your new child home. It’s okay to reach out with questions. Shegerian Conniff helps you understand your rights during pregnancy and determines if you’ve been treated unfairly. Call us. Initial consultations are free so there’s no risk.