California Church Obligations Toward Pregnant Employees

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Like every employer, a church needs to plan for its employees to need time for family, especially when a new baby is on the way. Every church with employees needs to adopt clear policies and guidelines to ensure that its practices comply with labor laws. When a church employee is pregnant, California churches have several obligations.

California has overlapping rules regarding an employer’s obligation to make allowances for employees who are expecting or have recently given birth to a child:

  • Baby-bonding leave. Under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), employers with 20 to 50 employees are required to provide certain eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of leave after a baby is born. The employer size is deliberately designed to parallel the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which applies the same standard to employers with more than 50 employees. The employer is not required to pay the employee who is on leave for baby bonding, but if the employee receives insurance from the employer that insurance must be continued for the duration of the leave period. The leave period is “job protected,” which means the employer must guarantee the same or a similar position to the employee upon her return to work. Note that the CFRA’s rights also apply to new fathers and other qualified individuals.
  • Pregnancy disability leave. California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) law provides an added layer of protection for employees who are unable to work as a consequence of their pregnancy. The law applies to California employers with five or more employees. To qualify, an employee must have a disability resulting from pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. “Disability” means that a woman’s doctor has determined that she is unable to perform one or more essential functions of her job, which can happen as a consequence of a wide range of effects related to pregnancy and childbirth. An employee is entitled to up to four months of leave if a doctor has determined that she has a pregnancy-related disability.

Employee pregnancies have raised important issues for churches over the years. Cases involving churches firing employees for getting pregnant have received media attention and dragged churches into court. Balancing the rights of employees and church doctrine can require difficult decisions and needs to be conducted in light of the potential consequences for the church.

The Church Law Center of California counsels churches and secular nonprofits on matters of governance, risk management, and other concerns. We are happy to help churches examine their employment practices to comply with legal obligations. Call us today at (949) 892-1221 or reach out through our contact page.

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