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Making Maternity Leave Policies That Matter

The scope of workplace protection being offered to expecting parents is expanding more now than ever. Aside from the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), states are increasingly enacting regulations that give expecting mothers the right to take maternity leave. Pregnancy discrimination laws also reinforce how important it is for employers to know what they can—or can’t— do when an employee becomes pregnant.

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Do you have 50 or more employees working within 75 miles of your business’ location? If so, you’re required to comply with the Family Medical Leave Act. The FMLA is a federal law that allows parents to take unpaid, job-protected leave of up to 12 weeks for pregnancy, medical and other family-related purposes.

Specifically, mothers can take FMLA leave for childbirth, prenatal care, and incapacitation or serious health issues caused by pregnancy or childbirth. Fathers can use their FMLA leave for the birth of a child and to care for their spouse who is incapacitated due to pregnancy or childbirth.

To be eligible for FMLA, the employee must have worked for the company for at least 12 months, and for a minimum of 1,250 hours during the 12-month period that immediately precedes their leave.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)

Employers with 15 or more employees must abide by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, a federal law that forbids employers from discriminating against women based on pregnancy, childbirth or other medical conditions caused by pregnancy or childbirth.

The PDA applies to all areas of employment, including hiring, termination, promotion, and employee benefits such as health insurance and leave. It also covers current, past and potential pregnancy. For instance, you cannot fire a female employee because of her current or past pregnancy. You also cannot discriminate against an employee because she intends to get pregnant.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

Employers with 15 or more employees must also adhere to the American with Disabilities Act, which is enforced by several federal agencies, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Pregnancy alone is not considered a disability. However, pregnant women can have illnesses or injuries that qualify as disabilities under the ADA. Pregnancy-related illnesses or injuries that may qualify as disabilities include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome, which impacts physical strength and dexterity
  • Pelvic inflammation, which can significantly restrict walking abilities
  • Sciatica, which limits musculoskeletal flexibility
  • Gestational diabetes, which can adversely affect endocrine function
  • Preeclampsia, which results in high blood pressure

Under the ADA, employers cannot discriminate against an employee whose pregnancy-related illness or injury qualifies as a disability. Additionally, employers must provide employees who have a qualified pregnancy-related disability with reasonable accommodation if necessary—unless the accommodation would cause the employer undue hardship.

State Considerations

Some states have maternity or parental laws that require employers (including some with fewer than 50 employees) to provide unpaid, job protected leave. Several states have a temporary disability insurance program that can be used for paid maternity or paternity leave. Also, some states have their own laws prohibiting discrimination against pregnant workers.

Michigan has not passed a state-based family and medical leave law. Therefore, applicable employers in Michigan must follow the FMLA. Michigan also does not have a temporary disability insurance program for private workers. But, it has the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which forbids discrimination based on gender. The Act covers pregnancy and childbirth plus medical conditions stemming from pregnancy or childbirth.

Discretionary Options

Some employers offer paid, job-protected maternity leave even though they’re not bound by law to offer this option. This type of benefit not only shows that they care about their employees, it also strengthens their competitive position in the talent marketplace. For a small business, however, it might be more cost-efficient to provide unpaid, job-protected leave, regardless of whether it’s required.

To learn more about improving employee care and increasing your attractiveness to potential talent (as well as building empathetic relationships with current staff), contact the experts at Axios HR today!



February 15, 2018




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