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Mothers can receive additional pregnancy leave as a disability accommodation

Employers cannot reflexively fire working mothers who exhaust the four months of leave they are entitled to under California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (“PDLL”). Even if they have used all their PDLL leave, mothers can still be entitled to additional time off as a reasonable disability accommodation. In Sanchez v. Swissport, Inc., an employee was placed on bed-rest shortly into her pregnancy and was unable to continue working. The employee used all of her PDLL leave by July 2009, but her baby was not due until October. The employer promptly fired the employee at the expiration of her PDLL leave, arguing that it could not be held liable for any wrongdoing if it gave the employee the full leave she was entitled to under PDLL. But the appellate court disagreed, holding that PDLL was intended to expand working mothers’ leave rights, not restrict them. Since mothers are already entitled to leave under other laws as a reasonable disability accommodation, they should still be entitled to that same leave, notwithstanding what is available under PDLL. What leave constitutes a reasonable disability accommodation is a fact-specific inquiry that depends on numerous factors (e.g., size and nature of the workplace, duration of leave, etc.). So employers who reflexively fire mothers at the expiration of PDLL leave can potentially be liable for wrongful termination and failure to accommodate, in addition to other claims.