Ann Kiernan replies:
The answer depends on the particular facts involved. Here are a couple of possibilities:
- If the woman is eligible for FMLA leave, she has the right to return to her job (or an equivalent). Replacing her with a new hire would violate federal law, unless the employer can prove that the woman would have been terminated anyway, even if she had not been on leave. The only cases I am aware of where the employer has met its burden of proof are those where economic conditions have compelled a reduction in force, which includes workers out on FMLA leave, or where, while the worker is out on leave, the employer has uncovers evidence of gross misconduct.
- If the woman is not eligible for FMLA leave (or a state law equivalent), you can lay off or terminate her, as long as you have objective, verifiable documentation of your legitimate business reasons for selecting the particular employee. Firing a woman because she is pregnant would violate state and federal discrimination law.
Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.