Pregnancy/Parental Leave

If you have 15 or more employees, you are subject to a federal law that protects pregnant women. The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which is part of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, provides that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions must be treated the same as other applicants and employees on the basis of their ability or inability to work. The law protects women against being fired, being refused a job, or being denied a promotion merely because they are pregnant. In addition, a woman usually may not be forced to go on leave as long as she is able to work.

Pregnant women are to be treated in the same manner as other persons with temporary disabilities for purposes of leave as well as participation in benefit plans and health and disability insurance. Further, if other employees who take disability leave are entitled to get their jobs back when they are able to work again, so are women who are unable to work because of pregnancy.

Pregnancy leave versus parental leave. There is a difference between pregnancy leave and parental leave. Pregnancy leave is medical leave that is provided in connection with a pregnancy-related disability, either before or after the birth of a baby. Parental leave, on the other hand, is leave to care for a child, and may apply to adopted children as well as natural-born. Some call parental leave "maternity leave" and offer it only to women. To avoid trouble with the federal or state antidiscrimination laws, you should establish parental leave that allows both male and female employees the same leave benefits upon the birth of a child. Remember that if you have 50 or more employees, you must allow up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

State laws. Before finalizing your family leave and pregnancy leave policy, you should check to see if your state has family leave laws or pregnancy leave laws that might affect how you set up your policy. The following states have specific laws related to pregnancy that affect employers with fewer than 15 employees.

California. California's law on pregnancy leave covers persons employing five or more persons. All such employers must provide a leave of up to four months, as needed, for the period(s) of time a woman is actually disabled by pregnancy even if an employer has a policy or practice that provides less than four months of leave for other similarly situated temporarily disabled employees.

Colorado. An employer who permits paternity or maternity time off for biological parents following the birth of a child must, upon request, make such time off available for individuals adopting a child. If the employer has established a policy providing time off for biological parents, that period of time must be the minimum period of leave available for adoptive parents.

Iowa. Iowa's pregnancy leave law applies to employers with four employees or more, and requires that written and unwritten employment policies and practices involving matters such as the commencement and duration of leave, the availability of extensions, the accrual of seniority and other benefits and privileges, reinstatement, and payment under any health or temporary disability insurance or sick leave plan, formal or informal, must be applied to a disability due to the employee's pregnancy or giving birth on the same terms and conditions as they are applied to other temporary disabilities. In any event, the employee must be permitted up to eight weeks of leave for pregnancy-related disability, as needed.

Kansas. For employers of four employees or more, childbearing must be treated by an employer as justification for a leave of absence for female employees for a reasonable period of time. Following childbearing, and upon signifying her intent to return within a reasonable time, a female employee must be reinstated to her original job or to a position of like status and pay without loss of service, credits, seniority or other benefits.

Kentucky. Upon receiving a written request by an employee, every employer must grant reasonable personal leave not to exceed six weeks when the reception of an adoptive child under the age of seven is the reason for such request.

Maryland. For all employers, disabilities caused or contributed to by pregnancy or childbirth are temporary disabilities for all job-related purposes, and must be treated as such under any health or temporary disability insurance or sick leave plan available in connection with employment. Employers that provide leave with pay to employees following the birth of a child must provide the same paid leave when a child is placed with an employee for adoption.

Massachusetts. A female employee who has completed the initial probationary period set by the terms of her employment or, if there is no such probationary period, has been employed by the same employer for at least three consecutive months as a full-time employee, who is absent from such employment for a period not exceeding eight weeks for the purpose of giving birth (or for adopting a child under the age of 18 or for adopting a child under the age of 23 if the child is mentally or physically disabled) and who gives at least two weeks' notice to her employer of her anticipated date of departure and intention to return, must be restored to her previous, or a similar, position with the same status, pay, length of service credit and seniority, as of the date of her leave.

Montana. It is unlawful for an employer or its agent to refuse to grant to an employee a reasonable leave of absence for her pregnancy; deny compensation, disability, or leave benefits accrued under the employer's plan to pregnant employees; or require that an employee take a mandatory maternity leave for an unreasonable length of time.

Upon signifying her intent to return at the end of her pregnancy-related leave of absence, an employee must be reinstated to her original job or to an equivalent position with equivalent pay and accumulated seniority, retirement, fringe benefits, and other service credits unless, in the case of a private employer, the employer's circumstances have so changed as to make it impossible or unreasonable to do so.

Nevada. If any employer grants leave without pay, leave with pay, or leave without loss of seniority to its employees for sickness or disability because of a medical condition, it is an unlawful employment practice to fail or refuse to extend the same benefits to any female employee who is pregnant.

New Hampshire. New Hampshire's pregnancy leave law covers employers with six or more persons. An employer must permit a female employee to take a leave of absence for the period of temporary physical disability resulting from pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. When the employee is physically able to return to work, her original job or a comparable position must be made available to her unless business necessity makes this impossible or unreasonable.

New York. Whenever an employer or governmental agency permits an employee to take a leave of absence upon the birth of such employee's child, an adoptive parent, following the commencement of the parent-child relationship, is entitled to the same leave and upon the same terms.

Pennsylvania. An employer having four or more employees may have an employment policy that permits granting of leave for purposes of childrearing beyond the period of actual disability, but the leave may not include payment of sickness or disability benefits.

If such an employer maintains a written or unwritten employment policy or practice that allows employees leave for purposes of childrearing and child care, the leave must be equally applicable to both male and female employees. Children by birth or adoption are covered.

Puerto Rico. All pregnant working women are entitled to a rest period that includes four weeks before and four weeks after childbirth. A woman may opt to take only one week of prenatal rest, and to extend up to seven weeks the postnatal rest she is entitled to, provided she presents a medical certificate to her employer showing that she is able to work up to one week before childbirth. An employer must pay a working mother during maternity leave one-half of the salary, wages, day wages, or compensation that she is receiving for her work. Where medical complications occur, leave must be extended for up to 12 weeks but need not be paid.

Washington. Any employer that permits maternity or paternity leave for biological parents must permit the same leave for adoptive parents.

Getting more information. We suggest that you check with your state labor agency or your attorney about pregnancy laws in your state, and be sure to ask about the following points of compliance:

Business Tools

A sample pregnancy leave/maternity leave policy is available in the Business Tools area.