NASE Health News

Advice and information on small-business health coverage.


It’s A Girl!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010
Maternity Issues In The Workplace

The appearance of a baby bump in the office is cause for joy. But when you’re the business owner, it can also induce anxiety.

Now you have to consider a whole raft of concerns about your legal obligations, not to mention how you’re going to cope while a key worker is on leave.

Determine Your Obligations

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 applies only to businesses with 15 or more employees. The federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) doesn’t apply to companies with fewer than 50 employees.

But in some cases state laws on pregnancy and parental leave are more restrictive than federal statutes. Talk to your state department of labor before setting policy.

If you want to do right by your staff, you’ll want to offer at least some benefits to assist those who are new parents, even if your business is exempt from state and federal laws.

Note that if you offer any paid personal or medical leave to other workers—for instance, those who are temporarily disabled—you must offer the same benefit to pregnant women or new parents. In other words, paid medical or family leave must be granted equally to all employees.

You’ll have to decide how generous you can be, how badly you want to keep valuable workers, and how competitive you need to be with other area companies that by law must offer parental leave.

Put Policies In Writing
For your own protection, you need an employee handbook or policy manual that spells out what parental leave benefits you offer.

Putting policies in writing will prevent surprises caused by employees’ assuming perks that you don’t provide.

As you define your policies, consult your state labor agency and an attorney to make sure you’re meeting your legal obligations.

Manage Work Flow
What do you do when your star saleswoman is about to deliver a baby and plans to take 12 weeks of family leave? You may need a number of strategies to get through the crunch. Consider these:

  • Before the leave begins, hold a brainstorming meeting with the pregnant employee and other staffers. Seek everyone’s ideas and advice on how to fill the void. Keep the tone of the meeting positive to encourage ideas rather than complaints.
  • Reassign tasks to other staffers if possible. If staffers volunteer, let them have specific duties they’re willing to accept. Otherwise, assign tasks on the basis of time and ability. 
  • Take up some of the slack yourself. You’ll demonstrate to workers that the temporary burden falls on you as well as them.
  • Keep motivation high by emphasizing that the staff is like a family whose members help each other as needed. Every worker would welcome the same treatment if he or she needed medical leave.
  • Use temporary workers to cover crunch periods.

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