Generous-but-firm medical leave policy did not conflict with maternity leave laws

Concerned about handling pregnant employees’ requests for leave without falling afoul of maternity leave laws? Take heart from a recent case in New Jersey.

The employer had a generous, but strict, medical leave policy. It allowed employees to take 26 weeks of family and medical leave a year – 14 weeks more than the FMLA requires. But the policy also had a “no exceptions” clause under which any employee who took more time off than 26 weeks was fired.

A employee carrying twins took her 12 weeks under FMLA maternity leave laws early because of complications with the pregnancy. She then took the other 14 weeks, but after that was up she was still unable to return to work. She requested further leave until she gave birth.

The employer said that wasn’t allowed, and fired her. She sued for violation of state maternity leave laws, claiming the employer’s leave policy had a disparate impact on women. But the court threw out her suit.

Even-handed policy
The court said the company’s medical leave policy was even-handed, because it gave both men and women extended leave. The firm was under no obligation to provide leave covering the entire period an employee couldn’t work.

If you have a medical leave policy that goes beyond the FMLA, check it to make sure that pregnant employees have neither more nor fewer advantages than others. It’s also wise to refuse to extend medical leaves for any reason.

Cite: Gerety v. Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort, No. A-33-04, N.J. Sup. Ct., 7/25/05

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