December 8, 2003
MATERNITY LEAVE-RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS
By: George Coppolo, Chief Attorney
You asked whether state or federal law requires employers to give their employees paid maternity leave, and if so, how much. You also asked whether the laws apply to churches. This office is not authorized to give legal opinions and this report should not be considered one.
Neither state nor federal law requires employers to give their employees paid maternity leave. But both state and federal law prohibit employers from discriminating against an employee because she is pregnant. The state law applies to employers with three or more employees; federal law generally applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Thus, the employer must offer her the same leave benefits it offers other workers who are unable to work because of a disability. Neither law explicitly exempts religious institutions from its reach. People who feel their employer has violated the law may file a complaint with the Connecticut Human Rights and Opportunities Commission (CHRO).
In addition, both state and federal law require large employers to offer unpaid maternity leave to their employees under their Family Medical Leave Acts (FMLA). Neither law explicitly exempts religious institutions from its reach.
Connecticut's FMLA requires private-sector employers of 75 or more employees to grant up to 16 weeks of leave in any two-year period to an eligible employee in order to care for a newborn; a newly placed foster child; or a spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition.
The federal FMLA covers Connecticut's private-sector employers with 50 or more employees, municipalities, public and private schools, and state employees (a state law also covers the latter group). We have enclosed a more detailed summary of the federal law.
Employers of fewer than 50 employees are not covered by any FMLA law.
The federal FMLA does not preempt any provision of a state family leave law that is more favorable to employees. Both laws apply to employers and employees who fall under their definitions. This means, for example, that employees covered under both laws can take up to 16 weeks of leave under the state law in one year and an additional 12 weeks under the federal law in the next.
STATE DISCRIMINATION LAWS
It is illegal for an employer, except in the case of a bona fide occupational qualification or need, to refuse to hire or employ, to bar or discharge from employment, or to discriminate against any individual in compensation or in the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of the individual's sex (CGS § 46a-60(a) a(1)).
It is also illegal for an employer to:
1. terminate a woman's employment because of her pregnancy;
2. refuse to grant her a reasonable leave of absence for disability resulting from her pregnancy;
3. deny an employee who is disabled as a result of pregnancy any compensation to which she is entitled as a result of the accumulation of disability or leave benefits she has accrued under the employer's disability or leave plans;
4. fail or refuse to reinstate the employee to her original job or to an equivalent position with equivalent pay and accumulated seniority, retirement, fringe benefits, and other service credits upon her signifying her intent to return unless, in the case of a private employer, the employer's circumstances have so changed as to make it impossible or unreasonable to do so;
5. fail or refuse to make a reasonable effort to transfer a pregnant employee to any suitable temporary position which may be available if an employee gives written notice of her pregnancy and the employer or she reasonably believes that continued employment in the position may injure her or the fetus;
6. fail or refuse to inform employees, by any reasonable means, that they must give written notice of their pregnancy in order to be eligible for transfer to a temporary position (CGS § 46a-60(a)(7)); and
7. fail or refuse to inform the pregnant employee that a transfer may be appealed to CHRO.
Connecticut's FMLA (CGS §§ 31-51kk through 31-51qq) regulates only private employers with 75 or more employees. By law, to be eligible an employee must have been working for the employer at least 12 months and have at least 1,000 hours of service during the 12 months prior to the leave.
An employee can take a FMLA leave for birth or adoption of a child; care for a spouse, offspring, or parent who has a serious health condition; or the employee's serious health condition. To the extent practicable, the employee must give advance notice of need for FMLA leave. Where the reason is the employee's a health condition, the employee must try to schedule FMLA leave to avoid disrupting work operations. The law specifies conditions under which an employer may require certification of the need for FMLA leave.
An eligible employee can take up to 16 work weeks of leave without pay during a 24-month period beginning with the first day of FMLA leave. If both parents work for the same employer, they can take a total of 16 weeks for birth, adoption, or care for a sick parent.
An employer may provide paid FMLA leave. For birth, adoption, or family illness an employee may use vacation, personal, or unpaid leave to complete the 16 weeks if paid FMLA leave is insufficient. For family or personal illness, an employee may also use medical or sick leave. In some circumstances FMLA leave may be intermittent or on a reduced leave schedule.
The law protects the employment rights, benefits, and confidentiality of medical records (with certain exceptions) of an employee who takes FMLA leave. It also protects an employee's rights to file charges, institute proceedings, testify, or give information regarding FMLA cases. An employer may not discharge or otherwise discriminate against an employee for exercising those rights.
A 2003 act (PA 03-213) allows private-sector employees to use up to two weeks of sick time while on leave under the state's FMLA. It prohibits employers from denying such use or firing, threatening to fire, demoting, suspending, or in any way discriminating against an employee who uses or tries to use sick leave for FMLA purposes. The new leave provision allows an employee (1) to attend to the serious health condition of a child, spouse, or parent or (2) for the birth or adoption of a child.
Under prior law, the employer could, but was not required to, allow the employee to use accumulated sick time to attend to the serious health condition of his child, spouse, or parent. The act (and prior FMLA law) applies to private sector employers with more than 75 employees. The act applies only to employers with written sick leave policies. Its definition of sick leave excludes compensation for missing work that is provided through an employer's plan, such as, short- or long-term disability insurance.
The act allows an employee aggrieved by a suspected violation of the act to file a complaint with the labor commissioner, who must hold a hearing on the matter and provide each party with written notification of his decision.