Family Medical Leave Act: Compliance and Maternity Leave

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Topic: Law
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Introduction

In today’s business settings, organizations are often under pressure to improve their performance, productivity and profitability if they are to survive and remain relevant in the often aggressive business arena. As such, organization leaders and managers often push their employees to the limit to ensure that these aims are achieved.

As a result, employees find themselves working for long hours as they try to meet the stipulated organizational goals and objectives while at the same time trying to fulfill their own needs and desires through working for their pay (Poelmans, 2005). However, there are circumstances which arise and require individuals to take some time off work and cater for some pressing personal needs. Such situations include sickness, personal and family emergencies among others.

In the event that such situations occur, the management is obligated to give the individual some time off to sort such matters out. This decision places the management in a compromising situation because absence of an employee means delays in various aspects of the business. As a result, most managers do not give their employees some time off unless the reason behind such a request is logical and unavoidable.

In light of this, various measures have been enforced by government agencies to protect both the organizations needs and those of the employees when it comes to particular sensitive situations. One of the most crucial circumstances is pregnancy.

Due to the sensitive nature of this period, governments all over the world have enacted laws which protect pregnant women against unnecessary exploitation from their employers during this phase. One of the laws is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which aims at protecting employees against infringements of their family and health rights by scrupulous employers (Fried, 1998).

Focus and Framing

Maternity leave: A brief overview

Maternity leave can best be defined as a duration through which a pregnant woman is given time off work to prepare for the expected baby, deliver and recover from the birthing process (McGladrey, 2006).

The period given differs from one region to another and from one organization to another. In most cases, organizations often create this leave from other benefits such as sick leaves, personal days and vacation time among others. In other organizations, men are also given a paternity leave which gives them a chance to support their wives and actively contribute in catering for the welfare of the new child.

Problem identification

The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), defines the laws pertaining to maternity leave in the United States. According to DOL (1996), employees are considered eligible for this benefit if they are employed by a company consisting of a workforce of over fifty employees. In addition, their place of residence should be 75 miles from their workplace for them to qualify for this benefit.

Federal, state, and local government workers also qualify (DOL 1996). However, there have been various debates regarding the compliance and qualifications of a maternity leave in an organizational setting. As such, this paper shall aim at answering the following questions:

  1. What do majority of organizations have in place to regulate and address pregnant employees and maternity leave when it arises, or are organizations making up their own rules on this issue as they go along?
  2. What, if any, do organizations have in place for those employees who do not qualify under FMLA? How do police agencies who do not have “light duty desk jobs” handle pregnant female patrol officers, or do they accommodate them at all?

Physical Location and Stakeholders

The research shall be conducted form a small law enforcement agency located in the southern region of the United States. The primary stakeholders will be all employees currently employed in this agency. Of particular interest will be department within the agency that does not have a position for “light duty desk jobs”. An example of participants in this category is pregnant patrol officers.

This interest will further be extended to any other organization that may be affected by employees wishing to take maternity leave. The city on which this research shall be based on has nothing in the Personnel Policy & Procedures that addresses maternity leave. In addition, it has less than 50 employees. However, it is a municipality and as such, the employees therein are covered under FMLA.

Organizations, Policies, Programs and Services Affecting the Issue

This topic is governed by (and not limited to) the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993. The investigation shall also include the Policy & Procedures for the City and any other organization’s Policy & Procedure, as pertaining to maternity leave and FMLA.

Purpose of the Research

The purpose of this study shall be to identify both the positive and negative factors/issues that are related to maternity leave within the selected city. This research shall also investigate a few other cities within this region in order to shed some knowledge and attention to any deficiencies in procedures governing maternity leave/FMLA.

To this end, a detailed investigation shall be presented in order to highlight various flaws in the procedures and policies that indicate lack of compliance as regarding to maternity leave in specific organizations. Suitable solutions to this issue shall also be provided.

Significance of the Study

Arguably, there are many people who are not as informed about FMLA and maternity leaves as they ought to (McGladrey, 2006). As such, they often end up suffering through the final trimester of their pregnancy in fear that they do not qualify or their condition will invariably cost them their jobs.

This research will serve as a model for information for prospective managers attempting to revise or create a policy and procedure system that will address maternity leave, and any other issues that arise from employee(s) utilizing maternity leave under FMLA. In addition, this research shall act as a focal point from which suitable policies implemented by other cities regarding FMLA and maternity leaves shall be shared to those cities that are non-compliant or are yet to have comprehensive policies promoting the FMLA requirements.

Terms to Identify

  • FMLA: refers to a federal law (Family Medical Leave Act) which was enacted in 1993 to ensure that eligible Americans are entitled to a 12 workweeks unpaid time off to cater for personal and/or family-related emergencies such as a newly born baby or an adopted child.
  • Maternity Leave: A period of time through which a woman stops working temporarily so that she can take care of her newly born or adopted child.
  • PDA (Pregnancy Discrimination Act): a passed law that stipulates that organizations having 15 or more employees should treat pregnant workers similarly to those employees that suffer from various temporarily disabilities thus cannot perform their tasks efficiently or at all. This law protects pregnant women from discriminatory acts that may arise as a result of their situation or medical circumstances related to pregnancy or childbirth.
  • Short-Term Disability: refers to a situation whereby an employee is unable to work temporarily due to medical reasons or injuries that are caused by factors that are external to organizational activities. Under such circumstances, the affected worker is eligible to supplemental insurance pay which is deducted as a percentage of the overall salary.

Literature review

U.S. Department of Labor Employment Standards Administration (DOL, 1996) produced an article in which detailed guidelines regarding the compliance to FMLA were documented. According to this article,

“FMLA provides certain employees with up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave a year, and requires group health benefits to be maintained during the leave as if employees continued to work instead of taking leave (DOL, 1996, p.1).”

This statement shows the aim and purpose of this act as regarding to maternity leaves. According to the author, this act does not apply to all employers and employees. As such, it only covers certain employees and highlights the provisions that employers should make to facilitate this leave as well as the terms and conditions under which this leave should be awarded.

Some of the key issues addressed by the act include but are not limited to protection of employees who decide to take the leave, the recommended duration that the leave should last and ensuring that health benefits are maintained throughout this period among others (DOL, 1996). In regard to qualification, the act applies to all employers of public agencies and private organizations which consist of fifty and above employees (DOL, 1996).

In addition, the guide also states that an employer covered under this act should allow eligible employees a maximum duration of 12 workweeks each year as a leave period (DOL, 1996). However, it should be noted that different regions have different requirements and regulations.

For example, Busby (2001) states that in some European countries, people that are allowed to go on these leaves (specifically maternity leaves) are paid accordingly. On the other hand, American states do not provide this provision. However, the employee’s health benefits are accrued accordingly even though they are not at work.

Similarly, Roog et al (2001) contend that all employers in public agencies or those with more than fifty employees in the private sectors must comply with the FMLA regulations regarding maternity leaves. The authors further assert that it is illegal to interfere, deny or restrain employees who are eligible to this leave whenever they ask for it (Roog et al, 2001).

Any employer qualified to implement this act can be sued for non-compliance to the act if evidence of such acts is presented. In addition, the authors further state that employers should not use the availability of this act as a determiner to employments, promotions, demotions or any other form of discrimination (Roog et al, 2001). Doing so amounts to non-compliance and it is punishable by law.

McGladrey (2006) contends that employers under this act have a responsibility to explain the various parameters it covers, to their employees. In addition, they should have a clearly defined procedure on how eligible employees should ask for this leave. As an example, the author states that employees should request for maternity leaves a month (30 days) in advance.

Similarly, employees should be informed of the forms they should fill prior to requesting for the leave and the people (such as human resource managers and organizational physicians) they should contact whenever they have problems or are unsure of certain aspects of FMLA.

Similarly, Regoli and Hewitt (2008) state that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act clearly states that any form of discrimination directed to a pregnant woman by an employer will be treated as an unlawful sex discrimination as stipulated by title seven of this Act. As such, the Act suggests that pregnant women should be treated like any other employees who suffer some form of short-term disability or limitation. This Act promotes the same values as those stipulated by the FMLA.

The National Center for Women and Policing (NCWP, 2005) brings this sentiment closer to home when it states that one of the most pressing concerns that the center often get is women in the police force wanting to know how other agencies handle pregnancy related issues within the institutions.

They center attributes this issue to the fact that most agencies seldom provide employees with adequate information regarding their FMLA and most importantly; maternity policies and procedures. In addition, data collected by the center regarding this issue indicate that there are numerous cases where pregnant women (especially sworn officers) have been unlawfully discriminated against due to their condition (NCWP, 2005).

On the same note, NCWP (2005) reveals that in some cases, pregnant officers are not even reassigned to light duties and they end up undergoing unnecessary stress in a bid to maintain their job reputation. These are classic examples on non-compliance against set FMLA regulation. According to the Office of the Federal Register (2009), the existence of such issues is especially surprising since the FMLA acts as a starting point through which agencies can build on or create their own policies regarding maternity leaves.

The author further asserts that FMLA only provides minimum requirements to covered employers. As such, the author does not understand why most law enforcement agencies are reluctant to give eligible employees the maternity leave (Office of the Federal Register, 2009).

This is further fueled by the fact that most institutions provide other forms of leave and benefits that exceed the regulations set by FMLA. In her opinion, pregnant women should be given the same privileges and leeway as other employees who are temporarily rendered unfit for active duty (Thomsen, 2007).

In regard to compliance to FMLA regulations, Christensen and Schneider (2010) reiterate that the Act presents organizations and institutions with an opportunity to develop policies and procedures that best suit their work environment.

The authors however state that maternity leaves often put organizations in tight spots since they imply that some work will not be attended to for a while or someone else has to be hired to step in for the employee on leave and there is always the probability that the employee on leave will have some difficulty adjusting to the changes upon return.

This is why most organizations disregard the FMLA. Despite these disadvantages, Regoli and Hewitt (2008) recommend that organizations should make an effort to comply with the FMLA regulations because failure to do so may prove to be more costly than implementing the Act.

On the same note, Fried (1998) states that there are some comprehensive policies that may facilitate a law enforcement agency’s compliance to FMLA and maternity leave regulations. The author begins by stating that in all the research he has conducted, he is yet to come across a law enforcement agency that has a pregnancy policy in place. This he asserts is mainly due to the fact that most agencies already have health and disability insurance regulations which in most cases cover for such conditions.

Despite this fact, the author emphasizes that in the spirit of equality and fairness, agencies should comply with the FMLA and give eligible candidates the twelve workweeks leave to go and cater for the new baby (Fried, 1998). He however warns by stating that the policy should not consider a compilation of other leaves as a maternity leave, however, provisions should be made incase the employee wishes it to be so.

Similarly, NCWP (2005) states that pregnant law enforcement employees should be delegated light duties when they are pregnant to avoid any complication that may arise as a result of stressing the body too much. In addition, the author proposes that policies that eliminate range qualifications should be put in place so as to safeguard both the mother’s and the unborn baby’s health.

This is because constant exposure to lead poisoning (caused by bullets and gun powder components) as well as gun shot sounds may have detrimental side-effects on the unborn baby’s development (Schulze, 2010).

On the same note, NCWP (2005) recommends that policies regarding to maternity uniforms and partially paid maternity leaves should be implemented in most, if not all law enforcement agencies. This goes a long way in ensuring that pregnant women are comfortable in their third trimester and eliminates most of the stress that comes with financial constraints associated with childbirth (Schulze, 2010).

Methodology

This shall be a qualitative research. As such, most of the primary data shall be collected through interviews, face-to face conversations, questionnaires and law enforcement agencies websites. The interviews, conversations and distribution of questionnaires shall be conducted within a period of three weeks. Each task shall be scheduled to take one week exclusively.

However, considering that the targeted participants are often busy during weekdays, most of the data collection shall be conducted through scheduled appointments and non-formal meetings during the weekends.

The participants will consist mainly of the employees from the organization under investigation as well as employers within the region. The compilation, review and analysis of the data collected through these methods shall take place in the sixth week after I am satisfied that I have enough information to formulate a comprehensive and evidence based argument on this topic.

Secondary data shall be collected from other websites, books, journals and articles that have focused their arguments on this topic. This process shall take two weeks since only credible sources shall be used. In addition, more data shall be collected from online blogs which shall be initiated by me to ensure that contributors stay on topic and group as well as individual discussions with my peers and instructors.

The secondary data as well as some of the primary data will be used to compare results from the agency under investigation with data from other law enforcement agencies across the region and state.

Data collection and analysis

The questions asked in the questionnaires, during the face-to-face conversations and interviews were specifically designed to answer these research questions:

  1. What do majority of organizations have in place to regulate and address pregnant employees and maternity leave when it arises, or are organizations making up their own rules on this issue as they go along?
  2. What, if any, do organizations have in place for those employees who do not qualify under FMLA? How do police agencies who do not have “light duty desk jobs” handle pregnant female patrol officers, or do they accommodate them at all?

Results from primary data

The results from the primary data indicated that 81% of employees working within the city (mostly women) suggested that in most cases, organizations follow the FMLA’s regulations to govern maternity leave processes and procedures whenever the situation presented itself. However, 50% of the participants attributed this to the fact that it was a government requirement whose non-compliance would have serious negative repercussions on the organization’s reputation and work ethics.

The remaining percentage was characterized by mixed responses. Some participants stated that they did not have a clue whether there were policies set to govern pregnant women during pregnancies. However, they were sure that there must be some procedures because in the event that a colleague reached her third trimester, she could be allowed to go for a maternity leave.

On the same note, some participants responded by stating that some organizations cater for maternity leaves under the health and disability insurance policies implemented by the organization. However, in regard to the second part of the first question, the responses indicated that in most cases, organizations modify the FMLA such that it suits the organizational needs as well as the regulations stipulated by the act.

Some participants were of the opinion that organizations often come up with maternity policies that are tailor made to fit the organizational needs. The results also indicated that depending on the type of activities being carried out by a specific organization, the rules and regulations regarding to maternity leaves often differed.

As pertaining to the second question, majority of the participants did not know whether organizations had any special considerations in place for employees who did not qualify for FMLA. However, I got the impression that this was a logical issue and organizational leaders had to make some provisions (at least allow pregnant women to go on leave. Similarly, no conclusive responses were offered in regard to how police agencies without “light duty” positions handled pregnant women.

However, some of the participants who had an idea on the issue stated that it was unethical to terminate police officers simply because they got pregnant. This would amount to discrimination which would reflect badly on the police force. As such, most of the responses indicated that women officers in such situations were temporarily kept on a retainer fee and were called upon whenever their expertise was needed on a limited basis.

The results from the primary data indicated that most people were not well informed on issues pertaining to maternity leaves and the FMLA. This is evidently due to the fact that people become curious about certain issues when they are affected by them and at the same time, some organizations are not well equipped with the skills required to communicate such issues openly. As such, knowledge regarding them is on a need to know basis.

Results from secondary data

To my surprise, data collected from this category was more informative than data collected from the primary data sources. I attributed this revelation to the fact that secondary data sources were specific to the topic and as a result. They had relevant knowledge and great understanding on the topic. In regard to the first question, data collected indicated that most organizations are at a disadvantage whenever they allow employees to go for maternity leaves.

However, most of the policies formulated to govern this issue were as a result of the fear that lack of such policies would affect the organization in various ways. For example, books, journals and relevant articles brought to light the fact that in as much as some low leveled organizations ignored or disregarded this issue, large organizations and public institutions had these policies in place as a strategy to boost their reputation and retain employees.

In addition, it was from these sources that I learnt that FMLA acts as a starting point through which organizations can formulate their own tailor-made policies to govern the issue of maternity leaves. Similarly, I found out that information as to how police agencies without “light duty” positions are not readily available.

In most cases during my research, I found empirical evidence that cited “light duty” positions as a comprehensive policy that can be implemented to show compliance to FMLA regulations. As such, I am of the opinion that more research should be done on this particular issue.

In regard to the provisions made by organizations as pertaining to employees who are not eligible to FMLA, data collected indicated that organizations have other similar policies that cater for such employees. Of great importance was the fact that almost all of my secondary data sources agreed that regardless of whether an employee was eligible to FMLA or not, organizations were obligated (partly due to organizational culture and mostly due to ethical underpinnings) to allow pregnant women to go for their maternity leaves.

Data collected from the secondary sources indicated that compliance to FMLA was not exclusively a mater of following the law but, was in most cases an obligation and a gesture aimed at showing that organizations do respect and acknowledge the value of childcare.

Recommendations

From the discussion presented within this research essay, it is evident that there are some issues which hinder organizations from complying with FMLA regulations regarding maternity leaves.

Despite the fact that majority of organizations have been proven to be compliant in this regard, the few ones that do not comply to these regulations do cause harm to the pregnant women that they deny this benefit. In addition, not only is non-compliance in this regard illegal, it also denies pregnant women their legal right to family and medical leaves. As such, it is a worthwhile endeavor to forward recommendations on how these inherent hindrances can be mitigated if not avoided.

Ignorance and ineffective communication to issues revolving around this Act and maternity leaves has been highlighted as a prevalent hindrance in organizational settings. As such, organization should invest in strategies that improve their communication skills and knowledge sharing abilities.

For example, having mandatory awareness seminars within the organization will guarantee that employees grasp some aspects of the FMLA and how it works in regard to maternity leave in organizational settings. In addition, having printed media (Newsletters, Memos, Procedural guidelines and policy description documents) may go a long way in ensuring that employees are well versed with the content of the Act and the procedures they may follow to exercise this hard-earned right.

Similarly, the government should enforce stricter laws that protect pregnant women against various forms of discrimination in their work settings. Implementation of such laws will deter employers who take advantage of this situation all the while forcing them to comply to set regulations stipulated by FMLA in relation to, providing maternity leaves to eligible pregnant women.

In addition, women should communicate with their employers on matters pertaining to the organization’s policy on pregnancy and maternity leaves. Having such knowledge prior to getting pregnant enables one to plan in advance on how the situation shall be handled when the time comes.

Conclusion

Compliance to FMLA regulations is of great importance to organizations. Not only does it show that an organization is law abiding, it also shows that organizations respect the input of their employees and any chance to help them attain peace and happiness is worth the while. From the discussion presented herein, it is evident that people are ignorant when it comes to this issue.

As such, in the spirit of promoting knowledge and ethical practices, organizations should allocate some of their resources to promoting awareness of this issue to their employees. This paper set out to examine various positive and negative factors that lead organizations to compliance or non-compliance to the FMLA.

To this end, a review of relevant literature related to this topic has been offered. Different arguments and opinions on this topic as forwarded by various authors have been presented in a bid to expand our current knowledge base on FMLA compliance and maternity leaves in an organizational context.

Similarly, data collected on a related research has been analyzed and the results from the same outlined. From the results, it is evident that most employees are yet to grasp the full concepts behind FMLA and maternity leaves. In addition, the results also indicate that up to date (since the inception/enactment of the FMLA in 1993), most organizations have not yet been able to effectively communicate and implement the Act as well as maternity leave policies as expected.

However, recommendations have been made on how organizations can show their compliance to these important issues. As such, if the recommendations as well as the information herein are implemented, organizations will be able to operate without worries and pregnant women will finally be able to procreate without fear of loosing their jobs or being discriminated upon.

References

Busby, N. (2001). Divisions of labor: maternity protection in Europe. Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law, 22(3): 277 – 294.

Christensen, K., & Schneider, B. (2010). Workplace flexibility: realigning 20th-century jobs for a 21st-century workforce. USA: Cornell University Press.

DOL. (1996). Compliance Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act. Web.

Fried, M. (1998). Taking time: parental leave policy and corporate culture. USA: Temple University Press.

McGladrey, R. (2006). Mandated Benefits 2007 Compliance Guide. Aspen: Aspen Publishers Online.

NCWP. (2005). Workplace Issues: Pregnancy Issues in Law Enforcement. Web.

Office of the Federal Register. (2009). Code of Federal Regulations, Title 29, Labor, Pt. 500-899. Washington DC: Government Printing Office.

Poelmans, A. (2005). Work and family: an international research perspective. New Jersey: Routledge.

Regoli, R., & Hewitt, J. (2008). Exploring criminal justice. California: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Roog et al. (2004). The Utilization and Effectiveness of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Journal of Health & Social Policy, 18(4): 39 – 52.

Schulze, C. (2010). Institutionalized masculinity in US police departments: how maternity leave policies (or lack thereof) affect women in policing. Criminal Justice Studies: A Critical Journal of Crime, Law and Society, 23(2): 177-193.

Thomsen, N. (2007). Women’s rights. New York: Infobase Publishing.