Employee Rights Attorney
Mission Viejo, California
Q: After I announced that I was pregnant, my boss told me to take some time off and that we could make arrangements for me to do some part time work at home. Yet, almost immediately after taking my leave, he wrote me a letter saying he had to let me go due to my condition and because he needed a full time worker in the position. What are my rights?
A: “It certainly seems your employer discriminated against you,” says employee rights attorney Don Sessions of Don D. Sessions Law Corp., Mission Viejo.
“Many laws protect pregnant workers from discrimination. Your employer may be in breach of its own contractual or ‘equal opportunity’ commitments to you in the employee handbook or your offer of employment. Your leave rights were not (offered) as represented.
“There are federal and state laws which apply to employers with 50 or more employees that provide a maternity leave of absence. The law provides up to approximately seven months of maternity leave and an obligation to reinstate you after that period. State law prohibits pregnancy discrimination for companies that employ five or more people within a consecutive 20 week period in the year previous to the discrimination.
“Public policy also prohibits pregnancy discrimination based on constitutional language on sex discrimination. There is no minimum work force requirement on this law, which is probably fortunate in your situation.
“The advantage of evaluating all these laws is that they have their own specific requirements, statutes of limitations deadlines, items that you may recover and standards regarding proof. If one claim doesn’t work try another.”
“According to the fundamental tenets of fairness, employers are prohibited from retroactively reducing employees’ benefits or pay but can change the terms and conditions of employment in the future. Raising an employee’s salary is common practice, but no laws prohibit an employer form reducing it.
“The courts consider an employer’s proposed salary or benefits reduction as a ‘new offer’ of employment an employee is free to accept or reject. Consistent with California’s statutory ‘at will’ practices, an employee is also free to leave.
“In practical terms, employees can become accustomed to the long standing policies of their employers to provide certain benefits, so courts have concluded that policies of employers can only be changed with ‘reasonable notice.’ However, the courts have yet to provide a bright line rule as to what ‘reasonable notice’ is required of an employer to change a long held policy or practice.
“It’s important to note that salary and benefits negotiated as part of an express employment relationship may be locked in for a period of time pursuant to the contract. Failing to abide by the contract terms, an employer may be liable for breach of contract.”