Application of Connecticut’s (Non-FMLA) Maternity Leave Law

LR-BabyThe State of Connecticut has provided pregnancy leave in the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act which is different from the maternity leave provided by the state and federal Family and Medical Leave Acts.  Unlike FMLA leave, which has eligibility requirements, CFEPA pregnancy leave applies to all employees of employers with three or more employees.  CFEPA does not allot a specific amount of leave, but rather makes it a discriminatory act for an employer to refuse to grant “a reasonable leave of absence for disability resulting from pregnancy.”

Although “reasonable” is not defined in the statute, pregnancy leave is usually considered to be reasonable at four to eight weeks.  This period of time is deemed to be the average medical recovery for a “normal” child birth, with a longer period if pregnancy related medical complications develop for the employee. This stands in contrast to  the 12 weeks available to public employees under the federal FMLA; this 12 week allotment is intended to cover both the medical recovery from child birth, along with post-recovery child rearing.

In addition, the CFEPA provides that a “private employer” is not required to reinstate an employee on CFEPA pregnancy leave to her original position or an equivalent position if the employer’s circumstances have so changed as to make it unreasonable or impossible to do so. Notably, this exception does not apply to public employers (such as municipalities), so it seems that a municipality must reinstate an employee on pregnancy leave, regardless of circumstances.

In a court decision that pertains mainly to municipal employers, but which illustrates the law of unintended consequences for us all, the U. S. District Court for Connecticut back in 1984 decided a case in which a city had granted a pregnant employee a six-month leave of absence from December 1 to June 1 of the following year, but later learned that the position had not been funded in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.  The city therefore notified the employee that her position had been abolished, and that there was no work for her to return to.

When the employee sued, the court applied a literal interpretation of CFEPA pregnancy leave, and held that if leave is granted, a public employer must reinstate an employee following the leave, and cannot claim changed business circumstances. The irony is that if the city had allowed only the  shorter leave of absence period which is typically deemed reasonable, the employee would probably have returned to work and later been laid off when the job position was eliminated.  By granting a much longer leave of absence (far exceeding what FMLA would allow, and presumably beyond what was required for the medical recovery from pregnancy), the city found itself unable to take the loss of funding of the position into consideration.  Instead, the city was required to find an equivalent position into which the employee could be reinstated.