I run a small business of about 25 employees. Twice in the past two years, I’ve had employees quit directly after taking maternity leave (we offer 3 months paid and an additional 3 months unpaid). Prior to their departures, it was understood that they would return to work. Both times this has caused understandable upheaval in the office. What questions, if any, can I ask employees taking maternity or paternity leave? Can I require them to come back to work in order to take the leave? Are there any options for me to avoid this happening in the future?
It is very generous of you to offer so much maternity leave, as your small business is not required to under either the Federal Family Medical Leave Act, or the California Family Rights Act. Those two acts only apply to employers with 50 or more employees, and they only provide for 12 weeks of unpaid leave. You must still, however, comply with the Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and the California Pregnancy Disability Leave Act, which apply to private employers of 15 and five or more employees, respectively.
The Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. The California Pregnancy Disability Leave Act states, among other things, that you must allow a female employee disabled by pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition to take leave for a reasonable period of time, not to exceed four months, and thereafter return to work.
As long as you do not discriminate, you may certainly ask your employees if they intend on returning to work, and when they intend to do so. The California Pregnancy Disability Leave Act and the California Family Rights Act both require employees who plan to take leave to give their employer reasonable notice of both the start and duration of their leave, so there is no reason you should not be able to ask those questions about a paid maternity leave.
Although I could not find any discussion or cases specific to your issue in the legal treatises I consulted, it seems that as long as you do not discriminate you could conditionally grant paid maternity leave upon a promise to return to work with a contractual agreement. In my research I came across several mentions of such contracts, stating, for example, that if an employee did not return to work for a period of time equal to the paid leave period, the employee would have to repay the benefits received during the leave.
I would definitely consult an attorney before going down this road, however. Think of the negative publicity that would ensue if, contrary to both employer and employee’s best-laid plans, a mother or father simply could not tear themselves away from their infant and go back to work.
For women who fear facing financial or career penalties while parenting, it is important to be proactive. As with all career goals, the key is setting realistic expectations and communicating them effectively to others.
On opening day of the 2014 baseball season, New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy was noticeably absent. He wasn’t benched. He didn’t have the flu. He simply took advantage of Major League Baseball’s paternity leave policy, which grants 72 hours off, to attend the birth of his son.
And all hell broke loose.
A report was made to Child Protective Services about our young nephew, claiming an abusive environment created by neglect due to my sister-in-law’s drug addiction. My sister-in-law is obviously very upset, and doesn’t know what to do. We’ve never been through anything like this; what should we expect?
For decades America has been steadily approaching a major social development — a time when the number of women in the work force would surpass the number of men. That moment has now arrived, brought on by, of all things, a recession.