Bundle-of-joy benefits

Bundle-of-joy benefits

May 01, 2006

Q. What are the options for crafting a maternity leave policy?

"When deciding on a maternity leave policy, you need to consider the legal requirements as well as the total benefits package you want to offer," says Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Karen Felsted, CPA, MS, CVPM, a consultant at Brakke Consulting Inc. in Dallas.

According to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, women are protected from discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. You can't treat pregnancy or maternity leave any differently than you would treat leave related to a short-term disability, says Dr. Felsted. "So you have to treat a pregnant employee the same as you would an employee taking time off to recover from a severe auto accident."

For a good summary of legal issues, Dr. Felsted recommends visiting http://www.eeoc.gov/ and clicking on the pregnancy link.

If you have 50 or more employees, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires you to grant 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period for maternity leave. Employees should get this time off if they're adopting or fostering a child. Dr. Felsted recommends reviewing http://www.dol.gov/ for more information on FMLA. Also be sure to check with your state employment agency for laws pertaining to this issue.

"The benefits issue is really a practical one," says Dr. Felsted. You need to ask yourself: What benefits will help you attract and retain female employees without pressuring the practice unduly? In her experience, she says, the majority of practices let women take two to three months off after the birth of the baby. The employee uses up her vacation and sick time and then takes the rest as unpaid leave.

Dr. Karen Felsted
"The practice may or may not continue to pay for health insurance during this time, but the employee certainly has the option to continue paying for coverage," says Dr. Felsted. She recommends checking with your medical plan carrier about any special rules that might apply to maternity leave situations.