Employment: Maternity Leave
Authored By: Legal Aid of North Carolina
Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability and pregnancy. Generally, federal law is applicable to employers who employ fifteen (15) or more employees.
When an employee is temporarily unable to perform her job due to medical conditions related to pregnancy, an employer must treat that employee in the same sickmanner it treats other temporarily disabled employees, including providing sick or disability leave or leave without pay. Employers must also provide other accommodations to pregnant employees on the same terms that such accommodations are provided to other employees with temporary disabilities. For example, if the employer allows temporarily disabled employees to perform modified tasks or alternative assignments, or take disability leave or leave without pay, the employer also must allow an employee who is temporarily disabled because of pregnancy to do the same.
If an employer permits employees to take personal leave for other reasons, such as training or educational classes, then the employer may be required to grant a similar personal leave for the care of a new child.
If the employee is able to handle the specific requirements of her job the employer cannot force the employee to take maternity leave. In other words an employee who is capable of performing her job must be permitted to work.
If an employee is absent from work because of a pregnancy related medical condition and her condition improves such that she is able to fully perform her job, her employer may not require her to remain on leave.
Employers must hold open a job for a pregnancy-related absence the same length of time that they hold open jobs for employees on sick or disability leave. Following childbirth, when an employee is able to return to work she is entitled to her job on the same basis as jobs are held open for employees on sick or disability leave. After childbirth, the employer cannot require an employee to remain on leave for a specific period of time before allowing the employee to return to work. The employer can require a doctor's statement indicating that the employee is able to resume the customary activities of work, provided such a return to work certificate is generally required of employees returning from temporary sick or disability leave.
An employer's policy with respect to benefits such as vacations, pay increases, seniority must not treat employees on leave due to medical conditions related to pregnancy less favorably than it treats employees on other types of sick or disability leave.
When an employer treats a pregnant employee different because of safety concerns the employer may violate Title VII. Generally, an employer may not impose restrictions on employment opportunities for women under the excuse of concern for the health of the employee or an unborn child.
If an employer provides health insurance or other medical coverage, it must cover expenses for pregnancy-related conditions on the same basis as costs for other medical conditions. An employer need not provide health insurance coverage for abortion-related expenses unless the life of the mother is threatened).
Certain employers are covered by the Family Medical Leave Act which requires that eligible employees be given unpaid leave for certain qualifying events, including the birth or placement of a child and other pregnancy-related conditions.