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Can my company make me take a leave if I get pregnant?

If you are an employed California woman who is pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, has it ever occurred to you that your employer might make you take an unpaid leave of absence when your boss finds out you are pregnant? This may seem like a ludicrous thing to worry about given that this is 2018 and discrimination against women is banned in the workplace. Nevertheless, you should consider the recent situation of a female Walmart employee in Georgia.

CNN reports that a pregnant woman in Atlanta who works at the Walmart Distribution Center developed morning sickness while at work one day last summer. When she went to her supervisor and asked to take an early break, he told her she must show him a note from her doctor before he could give her such a “special privilege.”

After obtaining a statement from her doctor saying that she should not do any heavy lifting at work while pregnant, she went back to her supervisor. This time he sent her to human resources. They told her that her pregnancy was a liability for Walmart and that she consequently must take an unpaid leave of absence until after the birth of her baby. She was astonished and furious, especially since she had received help lifting heavy items long before she became pregnant. Nevertheless, she took the unpaid leave Walmart insisted she take and did not return to work until she was a new mother instead of an expectant one.

EEOC lawsuits

During her enforced leave, however, she talked with a family rights advocacy group, and they filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit against Walmart on her behalf. It was their sixth pregnancy discrimination suit in recent years, two of which became class-action suits.

Pregnancy discrimination suits are not as uncommon as you might think. In fact, nearly 31,000 women filed one between 2010 and 2015. As the largest private employer in 22 states, Walmart has a long history of defending against such suits.

Anti-discrimination laws

Both the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit discrimination against you as a woman, including when you are a pregnant woman. In addition, 22 states have passed their own anti-discrimination laws. Despite such prohibitions, however, pregnancy discrimination remains a fact of life, albeit a litigated one. This is general information only and is not intended to provide legal advice.

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