Pregnant at Work
What You Need to Know to Protect Your Rights
How Will I Be Paid while I Am on Leave?
Although many large companies will pay all or part of an employee’s salary for some period after the birth of a child, company policies vary widely and depend on tenure. While you are on maternity leave, you will collect disability insurance. The terms of short-term disability vary by state, and this is something you’ll want to look into well ahead of time, since forms need to be submitted via your employer before starting your maternity leave. A knowledgeable human resources representative from your company can explain your state’s disability policies and procedures, and give you the necessary forms you and your doctor will have to complete.
While it is not required for an employee on leave to be paid a salary, all other benefits must continue. Health, life, and disability insurance benefits, retirement plans, and the accrual of tenure and paid time off cannot be denied to an employee on leave. “Employees who are on maternity leave are entitled to accrue seniority, automatic pay increases, and vacation time on the same basis as other employees on medical leave,” says Sack.
Will My Job Be There When I Return?
Thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), your job has to be held for you for 12 weeks. The gist of the FMLA is that employees of covered companies (companies that employ 50 or more workers for at least 20 weeks per calendar year) are entitled to 12 weeks’ unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child. More information about the FMLA can be found on the Department of Labor website. The law stipulates that upon return from leave, an employee must be given her old job or be given an equivalent position. “An equivalent position,” clarifies Sack, “is one that is virtually identical to the employee’s former position in terms of pay, benefits, and working conditions, including privileges, prerequisites, and status. It must involve the same or substantially similar duties, equivalent skill, effort, responsibility, and authority.”
Situations Where a Pregnant Employee is Not Protected
In this age of corporate downsizing, job security is a major issue. Unfortunately, being pregnant or on maternity leave probably won’t protect you from a layoff. If your company conducts a massive layoff where your entire department or division is downsized, you will be entitled only to whatever severance package everyone else is getting. However, if layoffs occur on a smaller scale, and you are let go while others in your department who perform the same or substantially similar jobs are kept, you should contact a lawyer for advice.
In the best situation, your pregnancy will be healthy and progress normally, your boss and co-workers will be supportive, and your company will offer a generous maternity leave package; however, there can always be bumps in the road, and your best defense is to be well informed ahead of time. With luck you’ll never need to cite the FMLA or state disability laws, but knowing your rights makes it more likely that you’ll get them without incident.
Consult your company’s human resources representative early in your pregnancy to familiarize yourself with all rules, regulations, policies, and procedures regarding maternity leave. Be sure you conduct a thorough survey of your health insurance policy so you can anticipate any co-payments, know which tests are covered, and understand whether or not you need to obtain pre-certification from the insurance company for your hospital stay.
Getting this information now will help you feel relaxed and confident down the road, when all your thoughts should be with your new bundle of joy.
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