Is it illegal to be terminated while technically still on maternity leave?

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Is it illegal to be terminated while technically still on maternity leave?

I had my daughter a month early and she
was diagnosed with CF shortly
afterwards. Before my maternity leave
was up I put a request in to have it
extended so I could have time to apply
to transfer to the work from home
department. They denied it and told me
if I didn’t return on the determined
date, I would be fired. Do I have a
case? They terminated me with no notice.

Asked on August 2, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, North Carolina

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

You write that your leave was denied. Unless you were using FMLA leave and still had time left on it, you did not have a right to maternity leave and they could deny it.
To be eligible to use maternity leave, your company must have at least 50 employees located within a 75-mile radius; you must have worked there at least a year and worked at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months. You must also have requested FMLA leave. FMLA leave is for up to 12 weeks.
If you were eligible for and did use FMLA leave and still have some left, they had to give you as much more of the 12 weeks as you had left.
However, if 1) you were not eligible for FMLA leave, 2) had already used it up, or 3) had not even asked for it, then you had no entitlement to leave--employers only need to provide maternity leave under FMLA; otherwise, it is voluntary on the employer's part, so they can grant it if they want, or deny it if they choose, and if they do give you leave, only give you as much leave as they want to give you. So unless you were still protected under FMLA (still have more FMLA leave), they  did not have to give you more leave and could terminate you if you did not return to work.
On the other hand, if you were fired in violation of the FMLA, contact the department of labor to file a complaint.


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