Tag Archives: pregnancy discrimination

The Basics of Maternity Leave Benefits

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 regulations will help you stay in compliance, avoid discrimination lawsuits and remain an attractive workplace to employees.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act

Under this act, which amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, pregnancy is considered a temporary disability, and should be treated as the employer would treat any other short-term disability. 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.
  • In granting sick leave, disability leave or modified job duties, employers must treat pregnant women as they would any other employee with a disability. 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.
  • While an employee is on maternity leave, her job status and seniority must remain secure, including all health insurance, retirement and other benefits.
  • While on maternity leave, employees should continue to receive the same fringe benefits, compensation, vacation calculation and seniority accrual as any employee on short-term disability leave.
  • Pregnancy-related medical expenses should be reimbursed exactly as 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. For employers with 50 or more employees, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) also applies, which grants the employee 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. Generally, employers also allow employees to use vacation or paid sick time to supplement their allotted time off. This is not always ideal though, since employees often like to have that time off available in case of illness (their own or their child’s) down the road.

Companies may choose to simply comply with those federal acts, 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 they are not discriminating against pregnant employees, but rather are treating them reasonably and as if they had any other disabling condition. Employers also may choose to offer maternity benefits above and beyond their short-term disability allowances or FMLA requirements.

While allowing significant time off for an employee can be burdensome, especially if it is paid time off, offering maternity leave can still benefit the employer.

Providing a workplace that is sensitive and accommodating to employees’ work-life balance is a great recruiting and retention tool for employers. The cost of recruiting, hiring and training a new employee generally far outweighs the short-term costs of allowing generous maternity leave and flexible time scheduling after the birth of a child.

pregnant workers

EEOC Announces Tougher Rules Protecting Pregnant Workers

In a recent press release, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that it’s made an update to guidelines concerning the discrimination of pregnant workers. According to the EEOC, pregnancy discrimination is a term used to describe “anything that involves treating a woman (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.”

While there are likely to be several reasons for the first major update since 1983, it’s likely due to the 46 percent increase in pregnancy-related complaints to the EEOC from 1997 to 2011. Here are some specifics and what you need to know as an employer.


Updates to EEOC Guidelines

In terms of changes to guidelines, there were four main points of emphasis. First, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) now not only pertains to mothers who are currently pregnant, but to those who are post-pregnant and have already given birth. Second, employers may be required to give pregnant employees lighter work during this time.

Third, lactation is now thought of as a pregnancy-related medical condition, so employers must provide flexible scheduling and a designated area that’s private for nursing mothers. Finally, parental leave must be offered to men as well as women if they are the primary caregivers.


What Constitutes Pregnancy Discrimination

If an employee who formerly completed labor-intensive tasks requiring plenty of physical exertion is pregnant, you can’t lawfully force her to continue those same tasks. Doing so could be detrimental to the health and well being of a pre-pregnant mother and child or a mother post-pregnancy.

When it comes to lactation, you could be committing pregnancy discrimination when you don’t offer scheduling around an employee’s needs or fail to offer a private place for her to express milk. This could be an issue if you have limited space, but it’s necessary to take the proper steps to create a private area.

If you previously offered a certain amount of time for pregnancy leave in the past to mothers, it would be unlawful not to offer the same amount of time to fathers. Because the role of caregiver has changed somewhat since the PDA was passed in 1978, the new policies do not allow men to be denied pregnancy leave.


Keeping Your Business Compliant

To prevent any issues, there are a couple of resources you should check out.

  • The EEOC’s section on Pregnancy Discrimination, which provides an overview of the various forms of discrimination.
  • The fact sheet about break time for nursing mothers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
  • The EEOC’s press release that goes over some recent issues that were addressed.

Due to the fact that pregnancy discrimination has been on the rise since the turn of the century, it’s definitely something to take seriously. Taking the time to educate yourself on this topic and recent updates should be beneficial to your business and to pregnant employees. If you haven’t done so already, you may want to create some workplace policies around this topic to protect your business even further.



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