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Medical Leaves and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act provides important protections for employees who want to continue working during their pregnancy and for those who require leaves of absence to address pregnancy-related illnesses or disabilities.

The key word is discrimination.  Whatever rules or policies the employer puts in place for employees who cannot work due to an illness or temporarily disability must apply in the same way to employees who cannot work due to a pregnancy-related condition.

Mandatory Pregnancy Leaves Are Prohibited

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits an employer from forcing an employee to take a leave of absence because she is pregnant, or requiring an employee to remain on leave for a period of time after giving birth.  A pregnant employee who is able to perform her job cannot be forced to take a leave of absence.  Pregnant employees must be treated like any other employee who is able to do their job.

In addition, if an employee is absent from work due to a pregnancy-related medical condition, and then recovers, she cannot be forced to remain on leave until childbirth.  The pregnant employee who has a temporary illness or disability must be treated the same as any other employee with a temporary illness or disability.

Pregnancy Leaves Must Be Granted on the Same Terms as Any Other Medical Leave

Employers may not impose special rules or restrictions on medical leaves related to pregnancy.

The same rules that apply to leaves of absence to address medical conditions must apply to leaves related to pregnancy.  For example, an employer may not fire a pregnant employee for absences if the absences are covered by the employer’s sick leave rules.  An employer may not require a pregnant employee to exhaust her sick leave before using vacation or personal days, if the employer allows other employees to use vacation or personal days to take time off for medical reasons.

Employers may not limit pregnancy-related leaves to a shorter duration than other types of medical or short-term disability leaves.  If the employer allows employees to take a leave of absence without pay because of a temporary disability, then the employer must also allow the same type and duration of unpaid leaves for employees who are temporarily disabled due to pregnancy.

Returning to Work After a Pregnancy Leave of Absence

An employer must also hold open a job for a pregnancy-related absence for the same length of time that jobs are held open for employees on sick or temporary disability leave.  If the pregnant employee used leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), then the employer must restore the employee to her original job or to an equivalent job with equivalent pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment.

Pregnant employees may have additional protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), including the right to accommodations so they can continue working.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against because you are pregnant, you should consult with an experienced pregnancy discrimination lawyer to protect your rights.  You must act quickly because there are strict time limits and procedural requirements for filing a pregnancy discrimination claim.

To schedule a free and confidential consultation, call The Howley Law Firm at (212) 601-2728.