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 Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) also prohibits your employer from discriminating against you because of your pregnancy, which may give you the right to take time off work, in some cases. However, unlike in some other states, there is no separate state law in North Carolina that gives you the right to take pregnancy leave or parental leave (until you child starts school; see below).
There are two types of state laws that might protect you 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 protection.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act does not require employers to give pregnant employees time off work. However, it does require employers to treat employees who are unable to work due to pregnancy just as it treats other employees who are temporarily disabled for other reasons. For example, if your company lets employees take time off for other temporary disabilities, like broken bones or heart attacks, then it must allow pregnant employees to take the same time off when they are unable to work.
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). (Pregnancy is considered a serious health condition under the law.) If you qualify, you can use the FMLA to take time off when you are unable to work because of your 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.)
The FMLA also gives employees the right to take time off to bond with a new child, whether biological, adopted, or foster. This is part of your total 12-week leave entitlement. So, if you use two weeks of FMLA leave during your pregnancy, you will have ten weeks left to use for parenting leave. Many states have their own laws allowing parents to take time off to spend with a new child, but North Carolina does not. However, 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.
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; you can use a couple of hours of your FMLA leave, then go back to work.
For parental leave, however, the rules are different. 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 at a later point when your partner returns to work—you must request intermittent leave from your employer and your employer can choose whether or not to allow you to take your leave intermittently. You aren’t automatically entitled to use your parenting leave intermittently.
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.
If you are married to someone who works for the same company, your employer can limit your total amount of leave for parenting to 12 weeks for both of you. However, 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.
FMLA leave is unpaid, whether you use it for maternity leave or parenting leave. However, you may ask your employer—or your employer may require you—to use your accrued paid leave (like sick days, vacation, or PTO) so that you can get paid during your FMLA leave. A handful of states have temporary disability programs, and a few have paid family leave benefits but, North Carolina doesn’t have these programs.
Your employer may offer maternity and paternity leave benefits, parental benefits, or short-term disability insurance that will pay for some or all of your time off. Talk to your HR representative or manager (and check your employee handbook) to find out what types of leave are available to you.