The Ohio Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week in a case that is expected to clarify the pregnancy leave rights of female employees under Ohio law. (Nursing Care Mgt. of Amer. Inc. v. OCRC). The case involved a company policy that uniformly denied eligibility for any type of leave during an employee’s first year of employment. As we previously reported, the appeals court held that a minimum length of service requirement to qualify for maternity leave was unlawful, relying upon an administrative regulation adopted by The Ohio Civil Rights Commission. March 2009 Human Resources Bulletin: Length of Service Requirement For Pregnancy Leave Found Unlawful.
Ohio law makes it an unlawful discriminatory practice for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of her pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. However, there is much disagreement about how the pregnancy discrimination law relates to maternity leave, especially for newly-hired employees. Although the Ohio statute does not specifically require or address maternity leave, an administrative regulation adopted by the Commission requires employers to provide a “reasonable” amount of maternity leave for all female employees, regardless of their length of service for the employer.
The Nursing Care Mgt. case now allows the Ohio Supreme Court to interpret the Commission’s administrative rule. In addition, a new issue was raised on appeal that was not presented in the lower courts – whether the administrative regulation is unconstitutional because the Commission exceeded its rule-making authority when it adopted the disputed administrative regulation. The questions posed by the Justices at oral argument suggest that the Court intends to address the constitutional issue.
We will provide a summary of the Ohio Supreme Court decision when it is issued. In the meantime, employers must keep in mind that currently, in the eyes of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and some courts, a female employee is entitled to a reasonable leave for pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition, regardless of her length of service.