The Center for WorkLife Law is an advocacy and research organization at UC Hastings Law that seeks to advance racial, gender, and class equity. At WorkLife Law, we address inequality at a structural level by developing and implementing concrete, evidence-based interventions in schools and workplaces and changing public policy at the state and national levels. We are extremely strategic in how we approach each structural intervention, forging partnerships with grassroots groups and field experts to identify the best change levers to tackle the problem at hand. With our interventions, we aim to produce dramatic changes within a two to five year timeframe. Our main areas of impact are economic security, maternal & child health, education equity, and racial and gender justice in the workplace. Throughout the pandemic, our team has also mobilized a COVID-19 emergency response, applying our legal expertise to help protect workers’ rights during the crisis.
Areas of Impact
COVID has been devastating for many workers. Women, people of color and low-wage workers have suffered disproportionately. School and childcare closures in particular threaten to cause a generational wipe-out of mothers’ hard-won economic stability. Our team’s decades of expertise in caregiver discrimination law have poised us to help workers in crisis. Since April 2020, we’ve operated a COVID-19 helpline to assist workers whose jobs have been lost or jeopardized due to caregiving responsibilities and health concerns. Additionally, we have developed online resources, including know-your-rights materials for pregnant and breastfeeding workers and fillable forms that empower workers to ask their employers for the emergency paid leave to which they are entitled. Our helpline has served predominantly people of color (60%), women (84%) and low-wage workers, with 30% of callers earning less than $20,000 annually.
The impact of our COVID work:
- Over 1,300 callers have been served by our COVID-19 helpline
- Our online COVID-19 resources have been accessed over 14,000 times
- We’ve reached hundreds of prenatal care and breastfeeding support providers about COVID-19 worker health through our partnerships with American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Nurse-Midwives and the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee
No one can achieve economic security if they get pushed out of their job because they are needed to take care of their children or other family members. We have pioneered the legal theories and best-practice employer policies that allow pregnant and parenting students to complete their educations, and workers to keep their jobs, while also doing right by their families. We leverage our deep legal expertise in caregiver discrimination through our free legal helplines, our technical assistance to plaintiffs’ attorneys nationwide, our Pregnant@Work resources, and our Pregnant Scholar initiative.
The impact of our economic security work:
- Due to our two decades of offering free consulting to workers’ attorneys on how to litigate caregiver discrimination cases, nearly 2/3 of plaintiffs win their cases in federal court (an unheard-of success rate in employment discrimination cases), deterring companies from pushing pregnant people and mothers out of the workforce
- Recently, Senator Cory Booker proposed a federal policy to protect workers from losing their incomes because of caregiving. Our model state statute has influenced similar legislation in states and localities across the country
- For over two decades, our WorkLife Law Hotline has helped workers keep their jobs while pregnant or providing family care
- Our Pregnant@Work and Pregnant Scholar web resources have been accessed nearly 40,000 times in the last year alone
Maternal & Child Health
We improve maternal and child health outcomes by helping pregnant and breastfeeding workers access the job accommodations, safe workplaces, and paid leave they need to maintain a healthy pregnancy, continue breastfeeding, and care for their young children. Our legal advocacy gains new rights at work and school for pregnant and parenting people. Through our ongoing partnerships with the American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology (ACOG) and other healthcare experts, we empower medical professionals to ensure women’s health is not compromised by the need to earn an income.
The impact of our maternal & child health work:
- We changed medical practice across the country by co-writing ACOG’s Committee Opinion on Employment Considerations During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period
- Our team has given grand rounds and lectures at nearly two dozen medical institutions and published articles in 5 major medical journals on pregnancy and breastfeeding legal protections
- WorkLife Law attorneys, working with other advocates, persuaded the California Employment Development Department that pregnant farmworkers exposed to pesticides are eligible for disability benefits, enabling them to take paid time off work to avoid exposure to toxins during the early months of pregnancy
- Our groundbreaking report “Exposed: Discrimination Against Breastfeeding Workers” has become a tool for policy advocates nationwide. It has been consistently listed on Social Science Research Network’s (SSRN) Top Ten download list for Women’s Health Policy & Law and has also been accessed over 12,000 times on our own website
College completion is a major challenge for pregnant and parenting students, who are often pushed out of the programs that provide their path to economic security and mobility. Because first-generation students, low-income folks, and students of color all are more likely than other students to have children, protecting pregnant and parenting students through Title IX and model policies is crucial to achieving education equity. Our Pregnant Scholar initiative pioneered the use of Title IX to make the case that policies enabling pregnant and parenting students to complete their educations are not only best practice, but also required by federal law.
The impact of our education equity work:
- Our Pregnant Scholar Hotline has helped hundreds of pregnant and parenting students negotiate the accommodations they need to stay in school
- We have trained thousands of university administrators on pregnant student’s Title IX legal rights
- Dozens of universities and colleges across the country have adopted our best-practice policies—from the University of California, Berkeley to Pueblo Community College
- Our Pregnant Scholar website has reached over 67,000 users
Racial & Gender Justice
WorkLife Law centers racial justice in all of our legal and policy work. Our diverse team of attorneys partners with organizations led by and dedicated to Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. Their guidance informs our strategies to reach their communities with information about legal rights and direct support to workers and students facing discrimination. We often provide critical technical assistance to small grassroots organizations as well as programs with wide national reach like Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
Our “bias interrupters” have helped companies across the world address systemic racism (and sexism) by interrupting bias in basic business systems. Our trainings and open-source toolkits empower companies to interrupt bias before it happens in hiring, performance evaluations and other systems. We also work with women who are emerging leaders in their fields through the Tools for Change in STEM, Hastings Leadership Academy for Women (HLAW), and Women’s Leadership Edge, which provide practical and evidence-based tools for employees and employers.
The impact of our racial & gender justice work:
- Our Bias Interrupters webpages, including our open-source toolkits, have been accessed over 200,000 times by individuals and companies around the world.
- Before our intervention at one medium-sized organization, only 5% of people of color received mentions of their leadership skills in performance evaluations. One year later, with our help, that number jumped to 100%