Family And Medical Leave Act (FMLA) And Pregnancy During Employment
Employees (salaried, hourly, management and non-management) who work for employers who employ 50 or more people in a 75-mile radius must give eligible employees Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) benefits. To be eligible for FMLA benefits, you must work for an employer who must provide them and have worked for at least 12 consecutive months and worked for no fewer than 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months. If you meet those criteria, your employer must provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for yourself or a family member with a serious health condition. During that 12 weeks, your employer must hold your job open and, upon your return, cannot demote you, pay you less or eliminate your position. It is also important to know that the FMLA allows for “intermittent” leave. Thus, employees with a chronic health condition (or who care for a family member with one) can take FMLA leaves in smaller chunks, as long as the employee does not exceed the 12 total weeks. It is also important to know that your employer may request medical verification for your FMLA leave, and you must provide that verification when requested.
Finally, your employer is allowed to force you to use vacation and sick time while on FMLA leave. If this is paid time, you must be paid, but you cannot always “bank” the time for time-off outside FMLA purposes if you have already exhausted your vacation and sick time.
Protecting Your Rights During Pregnancy
Both federal law and Ohio law prohibit employers from discriminating against pregnant women. This discrimination can take various forms. Examples of obvious and blatant discrimination are termination, demotion or a reduction in pay or hours. Often, discrimination is less obvious. Employers may assign you different tasks, may assign you tasks beyond your doctor’s prescribed restrictions or may attempt to make work more difficult trying to get you to quit. Many, if not all, of these behaviors are unlawful, and it is very important to know your rights.
Currently, there is no federal or state guarantee for paid time off from work for pregnancy or delivery. However, federal law allows for employees of certain size companies, who have met a minimum pre-leave work requirement, up to 12 weeks unpaid leave for pregnancy and recovery. If you meet the necessary eligibility criteria, you may also be entitled to occasional time off during the pregnancy, as your medical condition dictates. During your time off under this law, your employer must hold your job open for your return, but they are not obligated to pay you. These rights are separate and distinct from any vacation or paid time off you may have with your employer; however, they often work in conjunction.
Paid maternity leave:
If you are lucky enough to work for an employer who offers paid maternity leave (either full or partial) you are, sadly, in the minority. However, many companies have short-term disability policies that cover pregnancy. To avoid an increase in premiums, your employer may misrepresent the terms of the policy to prevent you from receiving benefits to which you are entitled. However, the decision to apply for and receive the benefits is yours, not your employer’s. Ask for a copy of any policy to verify the policy actually says what your employer claims it says.
Often, your physician will place you on certain physical restrictions (maximum weight to be lifted, number of hours on your feet, how often you must eat or drink) while pregnant. Employers often try to get around these restrictions with their “light duty” policies. However, courts are becoming increasingly sensitive to an employer’s misuse of a light-duty policy to discrimination against pregnant women. If you have seen others at your work given light-duty work, but your request for light-duty work because of pregnancy is denied, you should immediately contact an attorney.