In California, Pregnancy Leave May Be Longer Than You Think…

California employers take note: the state’s Pregnancy Disability Leave Law provides up to four months of leave, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give pregnant employees more time if they need it.

That’s what the state’s Court of Appeal ruled in Sanchez v. Swissport. The background, from Andrew Satenberg and Jessica Rosen of law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips:

“In February 2009, the plaintiff was diagnosed with a high-risk pregnancy requiring bed rest. The plaintiff alleged that her employer knew that she was anticipated to deliver her baby in October 2009 and that she would need a leave of absence lasting until after she gave birth. She also alleged that the employer terminated her in July 2009, after she had taken just over 19 weeks of leave, which consisted of her accrued vacation time, California Family Rights Act [CFRA] leave, and the 4 months of leave provided for in the [Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDL)].”

The trial court dismissed Sanchez’s lawsuit because it determined that Swissport had fulfilled its pregnancy leave obligations under the PDL. But the Court of Appeal disagreed, writes Margaret Gillespie of law firm Littler:

“After analyzing the leave requirements of the PDL, CFRA, and [the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)], the appellate court concluded that the PDL was meant ‘to augment rather than supplant’ the leave rights otherwise afforded by the FEHA. Thus, where an employee is disabled by pregnancy, she is entitled not only to 4 months of leave under the PDL, but also to a reasonable accommodation for her disability (including a longer leave of absence) absent an undue hardship to the employer.”

The ruling places an important burden on employers to accommodate the needs of their pregnant employers, explains William Gutierrez of law firm Carr, McClellan, Ingersoll, Thompson & Horn:

“… even where an employee has no available leave, if the employee requests leave as a result of a pregnancy-related disability, a covered employer must engage the employee in the interactive process to determine an appropriate accommodation, including potentially keeping the employee’s job open until the disability abates. In fact, the duty to engage in the interactive process may arise even in the absence of a formal request, if the employer knows of the employee’s disability.”

The bottom line? From Ogletree Deakins:

“… after pregnancy disability leave ends, the employer still must engage in an interactive process and provide the employee with additional leave as a reasonable accommodation under FEHA.”

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