In May of this year, the United Nations reported that only three countries in the world do not provide paid maternity leave to its pregnant employees: Papua New Guinea, Oman and the United States. Obviously, this is an area of great concern for many families, and states are slowly responding to the problem. Just last month in Maryland, a Parental Leave Act (PLA) became effective for employers with at least 15 employees. Eligible mothers and fathers in the state are now allowed six workweeks of unpaid parental leave during any 12-month period for the birth of their child or the placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care. It’s nice to see that protection for pregnant employees is beginning to surface.
Pregnant employees are eligible for this leave if they have been employed at least 12 months and have worked 1,250 hours prior to the start of leave. At the conclusion of the leave, the pregnant employees’ position must be restored with the same pay, benefits and other terms. Furthermore, the employer must maintain group health plan coverage during the leave, if the employee is enrolled in the employer’s group health plan.
Pregnancy as a Disability
The PLA came a year after Maryland enacted The Reasonable Accommodations for Disabilities Due to Pregnancy Act. Essentially, the act requires employers to treat temporary disabilities due to pregnancy or childbirth the same as other temporary disabilities. Pregnant employees who need to make adjustments to her job due to pregnancy—including changing job duties or work hours, relocating her work area, providing mechanical or electrical aids, taking necessary leave or transferring to a less strenuous or hazardous position—must be accommodated. In addition, a pregnant employees cannot be retaliated against by her employer for requesting these reasonable accommodations.
How Does California Support Pregnant Employees?
In 2002, California became the first state in the United States to create a Paid Family Leave (PFL) program—an insurance program that provides replacement income to eligible employees who have a new child. Pregnant employees who contribute to the California State Disability Insurance (SDI) fund are entitled to six weeks of partial pay each year while taking time off work to bond with a new child. In 2013, this law was expanded to cover leave needed for caring for sick parents, children, spouses, domestic partners and grandparents. California law also entitles workers to four months of disability leave if they are disabled by pregnancy complications.
Family Medical Leave Act
Of course, the federal government does provide some protections for employees who need to take time off for family medical issues. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees to take unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks a year without losing their job or health benefits. There are several reasons you can take this leave, including childbirth and early-life care for a newborn or care for an adopted or foster child within the first year of placement.