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Fired while on maternity leave: Is that legal?

The news came as a jolt to many women who heard that a female magazine editor had been fired while she was on maternity leave. People around the country wondered if the firing was even legal, and whether pregnant women and new moms are protected in the workplace.

The first step in examining the case of Michelle Tan, who was editor in chief of Seventeen magazine, is to note the limitations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Though the law provides some protections to employees, it does not contain "standard maternity leave," the Director of Workplace Equality with the National Women's Law Center said. 

A FMLA-eligible employee can use the time off for maternity leave, director Maya Raghu told Yahoo!, but the 12 weeks of job-protected leave is unpaid, and the law doesn't specifically prohibit employees from terminating a worker who is on FMLA leave. She notes that firing someone on "FMLA leave just because they gave birth would probably be discriminatory."

Jettisoning a new mom taking FMLA leave for performance reasons might be "permissible," Raghu said, but it would depend on timing and other factors.

She said women are also sometimes subject to pregnancy discrimination, in which a worker or job applicant is discriminated against because of pregnancy or related medical issues. In some cases, employees subject to the discrimination are denied raises, job assignments or promotions, or are pressured to leave their jobs. They can also be denied access to benefits enjoyed by their peers, including health insurance and leave.

A Wisconsin employment law attorney can assess your situation and help you fight for your rights and benefits.

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