News / Utah / Local

Maternity leave not guaranteed for all, despite federal law

By Bill Gephardt | Posted - Jan 23rd, 2013 @ 8:30am

SALT LAKE CITY — Pregnancy and the birth of a child can be a happy time. But for some women it's difficult to get maternity leave from work or keep their jobs.

The law says employers can't discriminate against a woman for being pregnant. It guarantees women six to 12 weeks off work for the birth of a child. But in the case of small businesses, there are loopholes.

A woman who wished to remain anonymous has worked at a Utah company for four years and is pregnant. She said her boss told her maternity leave is not an option.

"That leaves me without a job and trying to figure out how to pay for this new child," she said.

According to the Department of Workforce Services, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states "discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination."

In other words, an employee cannot be fired for being pregnant or having a baby. But in reality, it's not quite that easy.

"He told me that because we are such a small company -- and I guess that's 20 employees or less -- they are not required to give me maternity leave, paid or unpaid," the woman said.

That's true. The Family and Medical Leave Act entitles women 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for the birth of a child or to care for the newborn within one year of birth.

That doesn't have to be paid leave, but it is time off.

However, if a company employs less than 50 workers, the Family and Medical Leave Act says it does not have to guarantee a woman a job when she's ready to come back from maternity leave.

"I don't really understand why," the woman said. "I told him I knew exactly what I wanted to do and I don't really have the luxury of not going back to work. I have to work."

She said she can reapply for a job when she is ready to come back to work, but there is no guarantee her job will be available.

"They told me that I would have to train my replacement," she said.

While this may not feel like a fair situation, it's technically not illegal.

The Department of Workforce Services said an employer cannot single out an employee if she's temporarily unable to perform her job due to pregnancy. The employer must treat her the same as any other temporarily disabled employee, because pregnancy is considered a temporary disability.

But according to employment attorney Kristin Van Orman with law firm Strong and Hanni, there's really not much the woman in this story can do. Many small companies offer employees maternity leave although they're not required to. But, that's not the case for this young woman.

Legal experts advise women in this situation to talk with their employer as early as possible in order to try to work out a plan.

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