Leaving No Doubt About Employee Leaves
The topic of leaves of absence from the workplace is hot - and getting hotter. As women continue to enter the workforce - and remain there after having children - the issue of maternity leave has taken on new importance. Moreover, as the population ages, more employees find themselves needing time off from work to care for their elderly parents. And medical disabilities and personal crises can compel employees to take leaves of absence. Thus it is not surprising that in recent years there has been an increase in state legislation regarding leaves of absence (LOAs).
The Importance of a Policy
It is important for the employer to have a clear LOA policy, and to include the policy in the employee handbook. Such a policy makes employees who wish to take leaves aware of their entitlements and their obligations. Further, a clearly stated, standardized policy can help ensure that the policy will be applied
consistently to all employees. This is crucial, since inconsistent LOA administration can lead to charges of employment discrimination.
Before establishing an LOA policy, the HR manager needs to become familiar with federal and state laws regulating employee leaves. These laws determine the types of leaves that a company must grant, the required duration of leaves, and the employee's reinstatement rights when the leave expires.
Pregnancy Leaves and Federal Law
Employers are generally required to provide the same leave for pregnancy-related disabilities that they do for other medical disabilities. The Pregnancy Act of 1978, an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, says that for all employment-related purposes, the employer must treat women who are affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions just as it treats employees who are disabled for medical reasons unrelated to pregnancy.
Furthermore, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) Guidelines on Sex Discrimination require the employer to treat disabilities caused or contributed to by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions in the same way that it treats other disabilities with respect to, among other things, employment policies involving LOAs. Thus written or unwritten policies regarding duration of leave, availability of leave extensions, accrual of seniority, and other benefits and privileges during leave and reinstatement after leave must be applied to pregnancy-related disabilities on the same terms and conditions that they are applied to other disabilities.
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program's (OFCCP) Guidelines on Sex Discrimination, which apply to most federal government contractors and subcontractors, also require employers to treat women who need time away from work for child-bearing in the same way that they treat employees taking LOAs for other disabilities.
If a federal contractor has no policy on LOAs, however, the OFCCP's guidelines mandate that women be granted reasonable leaves for child-bearing and that they be reinstated to their former jobs or to positions of comparable status and pay. This means that it is in the federal contractor's interest to develop a medical leave policy that includes childbearing and related conditions and that specifies the contractor's leave duration and reinstatement practices. …