Posted By:

Cheryl Miles on January 28, 2016

Employer Obligations Regarding Maternity Leave

When an employee first announces that she’s pregnant, congratulations are usually in order on the good news. But when it comes to having a pregnant employee, there are several different laws that employers must be aware of to ensure compliance and avoid any legal complications. In addition, you need to know what your responsibilities and obligations are when handling the situation.


Relevant Federal Laws

There are three federal laws that specifically address pregnancy.

  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which is defined on the U.S. EEOC website as “Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions as unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII.”
  • The Family Leave and Medical Act (FMLA), which allows new mothers to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave a year.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to offer reasonable accommodations for a disability related to pregnancy.

These laws are designed to protect the rights of pregnant women and new mothers and ensure that they’re able to give their newborns adequate care. If an employer is found to be in violation of one or more of these laws, it can result in costly penalties and lawsuits.


State Laws

In addition to federal laws, many states have their own unique laws regarding maternity issues and are bit more liberal with the rights of pregnant employees. For instance, California, New Jersey and Hawaii require that employees receive partial wage replacement if they’re unable to temporarily work because of pregnancy. Because laws can vary considerably depending upon the state you’re in, you can learn more about pregnancy discrimination laws, breastfeeding and leave rights on the Legal Momentum website.


Employer Obligations

First, you’re required to offer mothers-to-be up to 12 weeks of leave per year. This includes intermittent leave for things like prenatal care and time off to address serious medical complications related to birth. However, it’s important to note that some states have laws that are more generous with maternity leave. Tennessee, for instance, allows up to 16 weeks of leave under the right circumstances. It’s crucial to stay up-to-date on the details for your state.

It’s illegal to punish an employee for taking medical leave — and you’re not allowed to terminate them because of it. If you employ a married couple, then you’re required to offer the husband and the mother-to-be a combined total of 12 weeks of leave so they can both provide care.


A pregnant employee is something most employers will inevitably face. Understanding relevant maternity leave laws and what’s expected of you as an employer should make the process easier and protect your company from penalties and/or lawsuits. For more information on this topic, you can consult the Pregnancy Discrimination section on the EEOC’s website.



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