In a case of first impression, a California court of appeal has applied the California Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA") to significantly expand the leave rights of employees disabled by pregnancy. In Sanchez v. Swissport, Inc., Ana Sanchez was diagnosed with a high-risk pregnancy shortly after becoming pregnant, and her physician recommended bed rest for the duration of her disability. The employer allowed her time off for the four months provided under the California Pregnancy Disability Leave Law ("PDLL") plus several additional weeks off for accrued, unused vacation time – a total of almost five months. At the conclusion of her approved leave, Sanchez requested additional months off until after the birth of her child. The employer denied her request and terminated her employment because she was unable to return to work.
Sanchez sued claiming that the employer failed to reasonably accommodate her pregnancy disability under the California FEHA by refusing to afford her additional months off until delivery of her child. The lower court dismissed the lawsuit concluding that the employer had fully satisfied its obligations to Sanchez under the PDLL, and was not required to allow her additional time off under the FEHA.
On appeal, the California court of appeal reinstated the lawsuit, holding that even after Sanchez exhausted her PDLL leave, the employer was required to consider allowing her additional time off as a reasonable accommodation of her pregnancy disability. The court noted that on remand the employer would be allowed to show that the requested additional time off was unreasonable and/or would amount to an undue hardship.
In light of this case, where a pregnant employee exceeds her allotted four months of PDLL leave, the employer must consider allowing her additional time off as a disability accommodation under the California FEHA so long as the additional time off would be reasonable and not create an undue hardship.