Returning to work after maternity leave poses serious concerns for new mothers. Will I be able to return to the same job? Can I work a flexible schedule? Will I lose my health insurance? Fortunately, return to work moms have critical legal protections under state and federal law. Even so, many working women in New York continue to experience pregnancy discrimination.
At Lipsky Lowe, our practice is devoted to eliminating workplace discrimination in all its forms and protecting the rights of return to work moms. If your employer refused to keep your job open after maternity leave, forced you to take less pay, interfered with your breastfeeding rights, or discriminated against you in any way, our NYC employment lawyer can help. Well-versed in the applicable state and federal employment laws, our attorneys will be the strength in your corner.
The Rights of Maternity Leave
Under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), eligible employees have the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a one-year period for childbirth, delivery and postpartum recovery. An employee is eligible for FMLA leave if she has worked for the employer for 12 months prior to taking the leave and the employer must have at least 50 employees.
FMLA leave can also be used for prenatal care such as routine checkups and doctor’s visits. During maternity leave, women also have the right to retain their employer-provided health insurance, however, the employee must continue to pay her share of the premium.
Family Leave Rights in New York
In addition to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the FMLA, New York’s Paid Family Leave Law (NYPFL) provides for job-protected leave for pregnancy and other circumstances, such as caring for a sick family member. An eligible employee is one who has worked (1) 26 weeks for at least 20 hours per week or (2) 175 days if less than 20 hours per week.
The NYPFL is an insurance benefit similar to the state’s short-term disability benefits program in that premiums are funded by payroll deductions. The benefit payment is based on the employee’s average weekly wage but capped at one-half of the average weekly wage in New York.
Returning to Work After Pregnancy Leave
Return to work moms have certain legal rights under the FMLA and New York law including:
- The right to return to the same job or an equivalent role
- The right not to be discriminated against because maternity leave was taken
- The right to return to an altered schedule or part-time work
Upon returning from maternity leave, women must be treated the same as workers who take a leave for a temporary disability. If your employer changes your job assignments or dismisses you after returning from maternity leave, you may have grounds for an employment discrimination lawsuit. For example, an employer is breaking the law if they say, “I am not sending you on this work trip because it will interfere with your need to pump.” Even if that is well-intentioned, it is still unlawful.
This type of discrimination also occurs when an employer believes your parenting obligations will prevent you from fulfilling your duties.
Breastfeeding Rights of Return to Work Moms
Both federal and state law provide working mothers in New York with the right to express breast milk in the workplace. The FLSA was amended by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the ACA or “Obamacare”) to require employers (with 50 or more employees) to provide a break for return to work moms to pump breast milk for one year after the birth of a child.
Under New York’s Breastfeeding in the Workplace Accommodation Law (NYS Labor Law Section 206-C), employers cannot discriminate against women who choose to breastfeed. Employers must provide a reasonable break time for women to pump breast milk, who can either use time from their paid breaks or take an unpaid break. Employers are required to give employees at least 20 minutes for each break and must give nursing mothers a break once every three hours.
Unlike the FMLA, the state law applies to all employers, regardless of size, and allows women to pump breast milk for up to 3 three years after giving birth. Generally, employers must provide a private room or similar accommodation so that return to work moms can express their breast milk. The room must not be in view of other employees and cannot be a bathroom. While employers with fewer than 50 employees may be exempt from this requirement if they can demonstrate providing such a room would pose an undue hardship, they must still make a reasonable effort to do so.
Enforcing You Legal Rights After Maternity Leave
Return to work moms face the difficult challenge of balancing their job responsibilities with caring for a newborn. Although state and federal laws are designed to facilitate this transition, some women may be wary of asserting their rights after maternity leave. It is important to remember that it is unlawful for employers to retaliate against women who file a complaint about pregnancy discrimination.
At Lipsky Lowe, we have a well-earned reputation for being dedicated advocates of return to work moms. If you believe your rights under the FMLA, the NYPFL, or New York State labor law have been violated, you need the first-rate legal representation we are prepared to provide.
We will conduct an extensive investigation to assess the viability of your claim and work tirelessly to protect your rights.
While pregnancy discrimination claims can often be resolved through settlement negotiations, we have the courtroom experience to litigate any matter. When you become our client, you will have peace of mind knowing that we are on your side. Please contact the office today to speak with our attorneys.