Despite the great strides forward in creating equality in the workplace, working mothers still face tremendous challenges when trying to balance their responsibilities at work with their obligations as a mother. And these challenges become even greater if you don’t know your rights. Whether you are already a mother and trying to navigate your responsibilities as an employee or are expecting and are worried about keeping your job, an experienced employment lawyer can get you the answers to whatever questions you may have.
Discrimination Based on Familial Status Is Against the Law
First and foremost, it is important to understand that both federal law and California law prohibit any discrimination based on familial status. That means that you cannot be fired, demoted, or otherwise suffer adverse consequences simply as a result of being pregnant, nursing, or having children. While this by itself does not mean that you are entitled to special protections, it establishes a line where your rights begin. If you believe that your job is at risk or your employer has taken action against you due to being pregnant or having a child, you should contact an employment lawyer as soon as possible.
Your Rights Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
The FMLA is a federal statute that protects employees’ jobs when they need to take a leave of absence due to family or medical reasons. This includes expecting and new mothers, who are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of leave in order to care for themselves and their newborn child.
However, not all employers are subject to FMLA. Employers who have fewer than 50 employees or fewer than 50 employees that work within a 75-mile radius are not required to comply with FMLA. This means that those employers are not required to provide maternity leave.
Even if the employer is subject to FMLA, the employee must also qualify in order to receive the protections of the FMLA. In order to be eligible, you must meet the following criteria:
- You have worked for your employer for at least one year; and
- You have worked at least 1,250 hours (approximately 25 hours per week) over the last 12 months.
Assuming that both you and your employer are subject to the FMLA, your employer must hold your job for up to 12 weeks for you to deliver your baby, heal, and bond with your newest family member.
What to Do if FMLA Does Not Apply
If you or your employer do not qualify under the FMLA, you may still be eligible for maternity leave under your employer’s existing leave policy. Again, you want to keep in mind that you are entitled to the same leave that other employees receive. So if your fellow employees are given leave for medical reasons, you may be entitled to the same leave if you have given birth or need to take care of your child.
FMLA Also Applies to Adoptive Parents
The law recognizes that it is vital for there to be a strong bond between the mother and the child, which is one of the reasons why it provides for up to 12 weeks of leave. This applies to both mothers who have given birth as well as mothers who have adopted a child.
Paid Family Leave
To be clear, the FMLA does not entitle you to paid maternity leave. In most states, employees who are on maternity leave have no source of income once they have exhausted any PTO provided by their employers or whatever other benefits they may have.
Thankfully, California does provide an income benefit for mothers on maternity leave. Working mothers can qualify for 8 weeks of partial pay when on maternity leave. The benefit will pay 60 to 70% of their weekly wages (depending on their rate of pay) up to a maximum weekly benefit amount.
You May Qualify for Disability
In addition to benefits under California’s Paid Family Leave laws, pregnant mothers or mothers who have given birth may qualify for benefits under either your employer’s short-term disability policy or under California’s State Disability Insurance (SDI) program. Private short-term disability policies can vary widely as to what is covered and what they pay in benefits, but SDI will pay benefits at least 4 weeks before giving birth and 6 to 8 weeks after. Like Paid Family Leave, it will pay between 60 and 70% of your weekly wages. An experienced employment attorney can help you determine what benefits you may qualify for.
Nursing Mothers Also Have Rights
Federal law has also recognized the rights of nursing mothers when it comes to the need to pump their breast milk during the workday. Under the Break Time for Nursing Mother Act, employers cannot prevent women from pumping and must allow for pumping breaks. This law requires that employers provide a reasonable amount of time for nursing mothers to pump for up to one year after the child has been born.
In addition, the law also requires that your employer must provide a private room for nursing mothers to pump that is not the bathroom. The room must have a door that locks and any windows must be able to be shielded to block people from seeing into it. The room can be used for other purposes but must be available at any time when a nursing mother needs it.
Unfortunately, you are not necessarily entitled to be paid for pumping breaks. Federal law does not require pumping breaks to be paid, but your pumping breaks should be paid if your employer provides paid breaks.
Contact an Employment Lawyer Who Understands the Rights of Working Mothers Today
The laws pertaining to the rights of working mothers involve a complex network of both state and federal laws. Whether intentional or not, if your employer is infringing upon your rights, you may be able to take legal action. To discuss your rights and your options as a working mother, contact Attorneys for Employees to talk about how we can help. Call us today at 310-601-1330 to schedule a consultation.