For many women being pregnant is both exciting and scary at the same time. You may have many questions and concerns about your health, your changing body, and – if you work or are considering employment – what being pregnant might mean on the job. You need to know your pregnancy rights.

Federal Law:

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978 (an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. The basic principle behind PDA is that pregnant women must be treated the same as other applicants and employees on the basis of their ability or inability to work. A woman is therefore protected against such practices as being fired or refused a job or promotion because she is pregnant. She cannot be forced to go on leave as long as she can still work, and if other employees who take disability leave are entitled to get their jobs back, so are women who have been unable to work because of pregnancy. An employer cannot refuse to hire a woman because of her pregnancy as long as she is able to perform the major functions of her job.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 (29 USC 2601) requires covered employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave to eligible employees. The FMLA affects private employers with 50 or more employees but there are other criteria too. All public employers are covered, regardless of size. Under FMLA, eligible employees may have the right to substitute paid sick days for any part of a leave taken because of their own serious health condition or to care for a sick spouse, child or parent. The Act does not supersede state laws if the state provides greater leave rights to employees.

North Carolina State Law:

Some states have laws that require private employers to give employees time off for the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for a family member with a serious illness. North Carolina does not have such a law. However, most North Carolina employers with 50 or more employees will be covered by FMLA. North Carolina employers with fewer than 50 employees are free to provide paid or unpaid family leave as they decide.


The North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act prohibits employment practices that discriminate on the basis of sex, which includes discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. As a general rule, female employees affected by one of these must be treated the same as employees with other types of temporary disabilities for all employment related purposes, including receipt of benefits under employee benefit programs. The Act covers all employers with 15 or more employees (NC Gen. Stat. Art. 49 Sec. 143-416.1 et seq.).

Under the law, pregnancy is considered a temporary disability, as are related medical conditions such as severe morning sickness, doctor-ordered bed rest, childbirth, recovery from childbirth, and any other related medical condition.

Pregnancy Disability Leave

North Carolina does not have a state law that specifically requires employers to offer pregnancy leave. However, employers with 15 or more employees are covered by the North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act and must provide the same leave benefits to female employees disabled by pregnancy as are provided to other employees with temporary disabilities. This means that employers can provide leave for employees with temporary disabilities, including pregnancy disability, with or without pay, or not provide it at all, as long as all employees are treated the same in their requests for temporary disability leave (NC Gen. Stat. Art. 49 Sec. 143-422.1 et seq.)

N.C. State Government Employees – Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

A state employee who has been employed for at least 12 months and worked for at least 1,040 hours during the previous 12-month period is entitled to 12 weeks leave during any 12-month period. A temporary employee is covered if the employee has worked at least 1,250 hours during the past 12-month period. (NC Admin. Code Tit. 25 Sec. 1E.1401 et seq.). Under FMLA leave can be taken for the following reasons:

  • Birth of a child or the placement of the child with the employee for adoption or foster care.
  • To care for spouse, son, daughter, or parent with a serious health condition.
  • For the employees own serious health condition.

State employees who do not qualify for FMLA leave may use sick time to care for their newborn or newly adopted child. The leave may be used as follows (NC Admin. Code Tit. 25 Sec. 1E.1102,Sec. 1E.1110):

  • Parent or members of the immediate family may take sick leave for the whole period of temporary pregnancy related disability.
  • Parents may take up to 30 days of sick leave for adoptive purposes.
  • Biological mothers may take leave for the whole period of disability not covered by sick leave, either because the employee has exhausted all of her sick leave or because she wants to retain her sick leave. A doctor’s certification is required to verify the period of disability.

Questions? Or need more information?