Many women choose to balance their career with starting a family, meaning employers often face the issue of managing employee pregnancy and maternity leave. Companies handle this issue in different ways, but federal mandates affect certain aspects of employee pregnancy and leave. Understanding and abiding by these maternity leave regulations will help you stay in compliance, avoid discrimination lawsuits and remain an attractive workplace to employees.
Pregnancy Discrimination Act
Pregnancy Discrimination Act labels pregnancy as temporary disability under Title VII of 1964 Civil Rights Act. Employers should treat it the same way they treat any other short-term disability under this act. The act applies to any companies with 15 or more employees, and prohibits any kind of discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. For example:
- Employers may not refuse to hire a pregnant woman based on her pregnancy.
- Employers must treat pregnant employees similarly to other disabled workers when it comes to sick/disability leave and job modifications. For instance, if short-term disability is generally granted without making the employee exhaust their sick leave or vacation days, then the same must be allowed for maternity leave.
- Job status, seniority, health insurance, retirement benefits must stay secure during an employee’s maternity leave.
- During maternity leave, benefits, pay, vacation, and seniority should match those of employees on short-term disability leave.
- The company should reimburse pregnancy-related medical expenses in the same way they reimburse expenses for any other medical condition.
Length of Maternity Leave
There is no federally mandated minimum amount of time required for maternity leave, but the courts state that the leave must be reasonable in length. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act holds that the leave should be at least comparable to any other short-term disability leave. Employers with 50+ employees follow FMLA, offering 12 weeks unpaid maternity leave. Generally, employers also allow employees to use vacation or paid sick time to supplement their allotted time off. However, this isn’t ideal as employees often want the leave for future illness, for themselves or their child.
Companies may choose to simply comply with those federal maternity leave regulations, or craft their own plan. They may offer maternity leave as a separate benefit (if they don’t offer short-term disability, for instance). In that case, the company must ensure that they do not discriminate against pregnant employees. Instead, they should treat them reasonably, just like they would with any other disabling condition.Employers also may choose to offer maternity benefits above and beyond their short-term disability allowances or FMLA requirements. Despite potential burdens, providing paid maternity leave remains beneficial to employers by supporting employees’ needs.
Creating a work environment that supports work-life balance aids recruitment and employee retention effectively. Costly new employee onboarding outweighs short-term expenses of ample maternity leave and flexible scheduling after childbirth. For more information on the Maternity Leave Requirements, or any other benefit questions, contact us to speak to a consultant. You can also follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn or here on the FBS Blog for more benefits education.