Maternity and Parental Leave Laws in North Carolina

Employees in North Carolina have rights under the federal FMLA and PDA, but the only state leave law provides leave for school involvement.

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

Do you need time off work for pregnancy, childbirth, or parenting? If you work in North Carolina, the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives you the right to take unpaid leave for these reasons.

The federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) requires your employer to provide reasonable accommodations when you're pregnant if you need them. And the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) also prohibits your employer from discriminating against you because of your pregnancy, which might give you the right to take time off work in some cases.

But unlike some other states, there's no separate state law in North Carolina that gives you the right to take pregnancy leave or parental leave. The only exception is a North Carolina law that provides for some time off once your child starts school (see below).

Time Off for Pregnancy in North Carolina

Two types of state laws might protect your job if you need pregnancy leave:

  • laws prohibiting pregnancy discrimination, and
  • laws that require pregnancy leave.

Although some states have one or both of these types of laws, North Carolina has neither. Employees in North Carolina must rely on the federal PDA and FMLA for job protection when they take time off.

Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Laws and Your Right to Take Leave

If you work for an employer that has at least 15 employees, there are two federal pregnancy protection laws that might give you the right to take time off when you're having a baby:

  • the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), and
  • the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA).

The PDA doesn't require employers to give pregnant employees time off work. Instead, it requires employers to treat employees who can't work due to pregnancy the same as employees who can't work due to other disabilities. So if your company allows employees to take time off for broken bones or heart attacks, you must be allowed to take time off when you can't work due to pregnancy.

The PWFA takes pregnancy protections in the workplace one step further. This 2023 law requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who need them due to pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions. Under this law, reasonable accommodations can include time off work.

(Learn more about your right to time off as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act.)

Pregnancy Leave Under the Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family Medical Leave Act gives eligible employees the right to take up to 12 weeks off work in a one-year period for serious health conditions and parenting leave (among other things). Under the law, pregnancy is considered a serious health condition.

If you qualify, you can use the FMLA to take time off when you can't work because of pregnancy and childbirth. You can also take FMLA leave for prenatal care, including routine check-ups and doctor visits. (Learn more about the FMLA, including eligibility requirements, in our article on FMLA leave for pregnancy and disability.)

Parenting Leave in North Carolina

The FMLA also gives employees the right to take time off to bond with a new child, whether the child is yours by:

  • birth
  • adoption, or
  • foster placement.

Your parental leave will be part of your total 12-week FMLA leave entitlement. So, if you use two weeks of FMLA leave during your pregnancy, you'll have ten weeks left for parenting leave.

Many states have their own laws allowing parents to take time off to spend with a new child, but North Carolina doesn't. But North Carolina does require employers to give employees up to four hours of unpaid leave per year to attend or be involved in a child's school activities. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 95-28.3)

Part-Time or Reduced Schedule FMLA Leave

The FMLA allows employees to take their leave intermittently if it's medically necessary. For example, if you have a prenatal check-up, you don't have to take a whole day off. Instead, you can use just a couple of hours of your FMLA leave and then go back to work.

But the rules for FMLA parental leave are different. The law doesn't automatically entitle you to use your parenting leave intermittently.

If you want to use your parenting leave a little at a time—for example, by returning to work half-time for a while or by taking some of your leave when the baby is born and some later, when your partner returns to work—you must request intermittent leave from your employer.

Your employer can choose whether or not to allow you to break up your leave this way. If your employer agrees to let you use your parenting leave intermittently, you must finish your time off within one year after the baby is born.

Married Parents' Leave Rights Under the FMLA

If you're married to someone who works for the same company, your employer can require you and your spouse to split the 12 weeks of FMLA parental leave. But whatever portion of your own 12 weeks of FMLA leave you don't use for parenting will still be available to you for other reasons, including your own serious health condition.

Getting Paid During Your Time Off

FMLA leave is unpaid, whether you use it for maternity leave or parental leave. But you have the right to use your accrued paid time off (like sick days, vacation, or PTO) to be paid during your FMLA leave. Your employer might actually require you to use your accrued paid time off during your leave.

A handful of states have temporary disability programs, and a few have paid family leave benefits. North Carolina doesn't have these programs. But if you're a state employee, NC law provides for eight weeks of paid parental leave at full salary. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 126-8.6.)

If you don't work for the state of North Carolina, you still might be entitled to receive some pay during your time off through your employer. Many employers in North Carolina offer benefits like:

Talk to your HR representative or manager (and check your employee handbook) to find out what types of leave are available to you.

If your employer doesn't offer these benefits, you might consider buying a private short-term disability policy covering pregnancy.

Updated August 1, 2023

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