Check Your Pregnancy Leave Policies

Kegler Brown E-mployment Alert

Many people believed that pregnant employees were simply entitled to the same amount of leave allowed for other medically-required leaves. Many people believed that pregnant employees were entitled to equal, but not preferential, leaves of absence from work. Many people believed that you aren’t required to grant a leave of absence, for any medical reason, during the employee’s first year of work.

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission has never believed any of those things. Now, the Licking County Court of Appeals has agreed with the Civil Rights Commission.

In this case, the employer had a leave policy that permitted medical leave only after an employee had completed a full year of employment. The policy was applied to deny leaves to employees with medical issues, male and female, during their first year of work. When a female employee was not able to work for pregnancy-related reasons and child birth, her employment was terminated because she didn’t qualify for the leave.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the Commission that, under the Ohio discrimination statute and regulations, an employer must provide maternity leave for a “reasonable period of time,” regardless of its policy for other medical leaves. Thus, the Court held that it was illegal to deny this female employee medical leave and, as a result, to terminate her employment. Nursing Care Mgmt. of America, Inc. dba Pataskala Oaks Care Center v. Ohio Civil Rights Commission (Lick. Co. 2009), 2009-Ohio-1107.

This ruling obviously has significant consequences for Ohio employers. From a narrow view, a policy that denies leave to employees during their first year of employment is unlawful, at least when applied to pregnancy-related absences. In a broader sense, the Court adopted the view that a pregnant employee is entitled to a “reasonable” maternity leave, regardless of the leave allowed for other medical causes. What may be viewed as “reasonable,” under different factual circumstances, may be the next question to be decided.

We understand that the employer will petition the Ohio Supreme Court to allow an appeal of this ruling to the Supreme Court.