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How Much Pregnancy Disability Leave is Enough?

The Fair Employment & Housing Act (“FEHA”) prohibits discrimination on a variety of grounds including sex and physical disability.  “Sex” is defined to include pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions.  FEHA also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation for an employee’s known disability unless such accommodation would cause an undue hardship.  FEHA does not prohibit an employer from terminating an employee who cannot perform his or her job duties even with an accommodation.

Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (“PDLL”) is contained within the umbrella of FEHA and allows an employee disabled by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical condition to take an unpaid leave of absence for up to four months.

An employee was diagnosed with a high-risk pregnancy and required bed rest.  She requested, and was granted, PDLL and an additional 12 weeks’ leave under the California Family Rights Act.  The employee was unable to return to work after exhausting her statutory leave and was terminated.  She sued for failure to accommodate a known disability, among other claims.

The Court of Appeal held that additional unpaid leave may be a reasonable accommodation under FEHA, even when an employee has exhausted other leaves and the employer may be liable for discrimination if it fails to do so.  This ruling only addresses whether an employee can properly allege disability discrimination even after exhausting all permissible leaves.  Employers may still argue that granting additional leave would place an undue burden on its business operations but should take care before doing so.

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