Maternity leave repayment may be discriminatory

Q. Our maternity leave policy offers paid leave for female employees who plan to return to work after the birth of the child. If the employee quits before returning to work, she is required to reimburse the company for the paid leave. Is this lawful? —A.C., Maryland

A. This policy could violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act if maternity leave is the only type of paid, health-related leave that the company requires to be repaid when employees voluntarily quit before returning to work. An employer may, however, have a “family leave” policy that requires repayment from both men and woman who choose to quit rather than return from a paid leave.

Ensure your handbook is crystal clear on the effect of failing to return to work after this form of paid leave, and be sure that both new and existing employees sign an acknowledgment form for the handbook. Also consider developing a form for requesting paid leave that reminds employees of the repayment requirement.