Employment Law is Tricky When it Comes to Pregnancy
Navigating the complexities of employment law is tough enough, but when it
comes to pregnant employees, there’s an extra dimension of trickiness that
makes this one of the stickiest areas of the law for many employers.
The Family and Medical Leave Act
Blame it on the dual definition of “pregnancy”. As the traditional
definition goes, pregnancy is a “state of being” whereas a woman is
preparing to give birth. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employers who have more
than 50 employees who work within 75 miles of the workplace must provide
pregnancy and childbirth leave benefits under this act.
That leaves many small businesses in the clear, right? If there are fewer
than 50 employees, many SBO’s think they’re exempt since they’re small
enough to slide in under the threshold number of employees. However, they
could be making a terrible mistake by not providing benefits to a pregnant
employee, regardless of how many employees the have. Here’s why…
Discrimination Laws May Apply
Once your company hits the 15-employee mark, you must start paying attention
to discrimination laws. These federal laws are meant to protect a very wide
swathe of the population, and pregnant employees are included.
You see, it’s illegal to discriminate based on gender…and being pregnant
can bring on a cadre of discriminatory behavior from many employers, believe
it or not. Therefore, under the “Sex Discrimination” section of the Federal
Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Laws, it states:
” Pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions must be
treated in the same way as other temporary illnesses or conditions.
What that means is, whatever your company’s policy is on disability, it must
also cover pregnancy as well. For example, if your policy states your
workers can take whatever leave they need when they become injured as long
as they have a doctor’s note to verify the absence, then it must apply to
pregnant women as well.
Typically doctors will authorize around six to eight weeks’ time for
recovery from giving birth.
Sometimes Just Using the Phrase “FMLA” Makes it Apply
Sometimes terminology comes into play in a very big way. Let’s say your
company has 30 employees. That mean the Family and Medical Leave Act
doesn’t apply to your situation…
…unless people start bandying around that phrase, that is! If you refer
to the FMLA, or employees who maybe came from a larger company where it
did apply start using the term, lots of confusion can ensue.
Employee’s looking for more insight should research this more in depth,
I found a good piece on this website that should help with questions you
Maybe you have a discrimination policy that allows for time off for
childbirth up to 8 weeks. But if everyone’s calling it FMLA and not what it
really is (discrimination law), then your pregnant employees can reasonably
expect to take a full twelve weeks. Why? Because that’s what’s
allowed under the FMLA.
Courts have sided with employees who thought
they were covered under the FMLA even when they weren’t, and granted the
full 12 weeks. Simply because there was confusion in the workplace and the
wrong terminology was used.
So if you’ve got fewer than 50 employees, you’d better get your terminology
straight, use the right paperwork, and make sure everyone’s on the same page
as far as pregnancy goes. It makes a true difference. Employers who are looking for
more info should read this to get more info.