Small Businesses and Maternity Leave

A pregnancy announcement is exciting!

If you’re a small business owner, your obligations to the expecting parents might go beyond congratulations or a gift. If your business has 50 or more employees, you are required to comply with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). One requirement of this law is to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave.

See if you pre-qualify!

If your business has fewer than 50 employees, there are states that require you to provide maternity leave:

California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.

Many small businesses in America have less than 50 employees. Read on to learn more about your obligations when an employee goes on maternity leave.

When Should You Provide Maternity Leave?

In short, it’s good business to provide maternity leave no matter how small your company or where you are located.

A U.S. Department of Labor survey showed that providing both maternity and medical leave makes a positive impact on the lives of workers. Additionally, this benefit was shown not to place an undue burden on employers. Ninety percent of workers return to their jobs after taking FMLA leave.

If your small business does not need to comply with FMLA or state laws, there are steps you can take to make sure you’re doing right by your expecting employee.

Implementing a Maternity Leave Policy

Once you’ve decided to offer maternity leave benefits, take a look at FMLA and state laws. They provide a useful template for setting your policy. Make sure that this policy is clearly outlined in your employee handbook. Here are the basic FMLA guidelines:

  • The employee has been in your employment for at least 12 months and works a regular work week (FMLA requires an average work week of around 24 hours to be eligible, although state policies often don’t require an hourly minimum).
  • The policy applies to both men and women to give them reasonable time to bond with the child (newborn, adopted or fostered).
  • The leave must be taken as a continuous block of leave
  • Determine the amount of time off you wish to offer and whether it will be paid, unpaid or paid in part. FMLA allows for up to 12 weeks a year. State laws vary between 6-12 weeks.

Prepare for a Maternity Leave

The good news is that you have plenty of time to prepare for an employee being away for a while. Here are two good ideas to get ready:

  • Cross Train It’s not a good idea to have employees work in a bubble without anyone else knowing their day-to-day responsibilities. Take some time to cross train another employee or employees to cover the most important tasks. You don’t want anything falling through the cracks that could impact your business bottom line. Check out this article from Forbes for more information on this important strategy: Cross-Training: Your Best Defense Against Indispensable Employees
  • Consider Outsourcing These days, there are lots of options when it comes to hiring contractors, temporary employees or freelancers. QuickBooks has an informative post covering the ins and outs of temporary workers. What You Need to Know About Hiring Short-Term Employees.

Do you need additional information? The Small Business Administration provides many resources. Review the SBA Guide to Employment & Labor Law. If you have out-of-the-ordinary circumstances, it’s a good idea to check with an attorney who specializes in small business employment issues.