Maternity Leave Laws

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Q. A while ago two of our employees developed a romantic relationship. They are now expecting a baby and both workers put in a request for family leave to bond with their newborn. Are we required to give both workers leave for the birth of their child—even if they are not married?

Regularly re­­mind bosses that they should never comment on an employee’s pregnancy, pregnancy-related problems or the desire to have children. Only two responses are appropriate: Congratulate the employee when things go well and offer condolences when they do not. Anything else may be interpreted as discrimination based on pregnancy.

It can be complicated to handle a pregnant employee when she can’t perform some part of her job. That’s because three federal laws—the ADA, the FMLA and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act—intersect to provide protection for some pregnant workers who have medical restrictions.
A recent decision by the California Court of Appeal illustrates just how complicated and costly it can be to discipline an employee who is on protected leave.
If an employee is experiencing pregnancy complications, it may not be enough to provide four months of leave under California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave Law. For practical purposes, four months is the minimum leave employers are required to provide. You may owe more time off under the California FEHA, as long as it doesn’t create an undue hardship on your business operations.
What not to say to a pregnant worker: “The baby is taking a toll on you.” Sur­­pris­­ingly, that’s exactly what a four-month-pregnant waitress was told when she was cut from the weekly schedule and then fired. The employer will now pay $20,000 to settle her pregnancy discrimination suit.
Q. Is it a violation of the PDA to fire a pregnant employee for excessive absenteeism and lateness?
Here’s a good reason to make sure pregnant employees don’t experience bias: The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act protects against pregnancy discrimination and holds personally liable anyone who aids or abets discriminatory practices.

California employees now enjoy ex­panded pregnancy rights after new Fair Employment and Housing Commission regulations took effect Dec. 30, 2012. The regulations bar employers from discriminating against employees for virtually any pregnancy-related condition.

If a woman who has been fired sues for pregnancy discrimination, she doesn’t have to prove that her pregnancy was the sole reason for the termination. She merely has to show that it was a motivating factor.
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