Is My Job Guaranteed After I Return From Maternity Leave?

Job-Protected Maternity Leave

Often a woman doesn’t want to take time off from work to care for herself or her child because she fears that she will lose her job while on leave.  But many women are entitled to job-protected maternity leave. California law provides two types of protections.

The first type falls under the California Pregnancy Disability Leave law (PDL) and requires employers with 5 or more employees to provide up to 4 months of leave to women who have a pregnancy disability.

The second type falls under the California Family Rights Act law (CFRA) and requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks of leave for women to bond with their baby, bond with an adopted child, or care for themselves or a close family member with a serious health condition. CFRA leave, however, is often not available to women because it applies only to larger employers with at least 50 employees and has other strict requirements.

Federal law provides a third protection under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA is very similar to the CFRA, both providing eligible employees up to 12 weeks of leave within a 12 month period for the birth of their child. However, the FMLA provides more protections for women who require leave due to a difficult pregnancy. 

Returning From Maternity Leave

If you take a PDL leave and return to work within the 4-month period, your job is protected. Likewise, if you take a CFRA leave and return within the 12-week period, your job is protected. Regardless if your employer likes your temporary replacement better or discovers that you had several job performance issues before going on leave, your employer must allow you to return to work.

Although your employer must allow you to return to work, you may not get your former position back. If your employer eliminated the position due to corporate restructuring, your employer must give you a “comparable” position in terms of pay, location, job content, and promotional opportunities. Your employer, however, doesn’t have to create a comparable position if one doesn’t already exist. If your employer can prove that a “comparable” position doesn’t exist, they can give you a lower paying, lower level, or less prestigious one.

For example, a woman works for a large vacation resort chain as a Sales Manager. She oversees 40 employees and earns $95,000 per year. While on leave, her company eliminates her position by moving the entire sales department to an out-of-state location. When the woman returns from leave, her employer gives her a non-management position in the catering department that pays only $65,000 a year even though a higher paying, management-level position was available in the reservations department. This woman’s leave rights were likely violated because she was not given the comparable position when one existed.

This is only a brief discussion on maternity leave rights under California law. If your rights have been violated, consult an attorney. Should you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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