As is the case for other forms of prejudiced harassment, it is unlawful for employers or coworkers to harass a pregnant employee, regardless of whether they are a direct employee or an independent contractor. Additionally, employers are responsible for preventing harassment in the workplace, and are required to make reasonable attempts to prevent harassment. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) implemented regulations to ensure that employers do take the necessary steps to promote fairness in the workplace, and punish employers when they are not acting lawfully.
Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), DFEH outlined actions that are unacceptable and forms of harassment. Unlawful actions include the following: sexual or gender harassment, harassment related to childbirth, breastfeeding, etc., or harassment based on a combination of factors related to those listed above. Harassment is considered illegal when it is severe enough to create a hostile work environment, or when it interferes with an individual’s ability to perform their essential job functions, and, in this case, is motivated by gender and/or pregnancy.
Punishable harassment is not only limited to the employee’s coworkers and employer, but also other individuals that the employee comes into contact with while on the job. If harassment persists in the workplace, the employee will have a stronger case if they have made it clear that the comments and/or actions of others have been bothering them and they wish for them to stop. If this does not change the behavior of others, the employee should report the harassment to a supervisor; by law, employers are required to take all reasonable actions to prevent harassment in the workplace. An individual will have a stronger case if it can be shown that they approached a supervisor, but nothing changed in their work environment. If nothing changes in the work environment after the employee has expressed discomfort to the supervisor, the employee will have a greater chance of being awarded some type of compensation for their duress by a judge.