OCRC Looks to Require 12 Weeks of Leave for Pregnancy

Kegler Brown Labor + Employee Relations Newsletter

One of the most frequent and most difficult issues for any HR manager is dealing with leaves of absence for pregnant employees. Employers constantly struggle with the interplay between the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which prohibits an employer from taking an adverse action against an employee because the employee is pregnant, and the Family Medical Leave Act, which grants eligible employees 12 weeks of leave for serious medical conditions, including pregnancy. On their face, neither of these laws require an employer to treat pregnant employees differently than other employees, although in practice that is often the outcome.

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission is proposing rule changes to Ohio’s Pregnancy Discrimination Act, specifically the amount of leave an employee is eligible to take. Currently, a pregnant employee must be given “a reasonable period” of leave from work after the birth of a child. The Civil Rights Commission has long been of the opinion that 12 weeks is reasonable; however, the current rule allows employers to grant a shorter period of time if circumstances make 12 weeks unreasonable. If adopted, the new rule would eliminate that flexibility and would require employers to provide at least 12 weeks of leave to any employee who is temporarily limited in her ability to work due to her pregnancy.

For most employers, the new rule will not constitute a huge change from the policies they already have in effect. Nonetheless, employers have voiced their displeasure with the proposed changes, citing potentially harmful effects on small businesses. Small business owners fear they will have a more difficult time holding a position open for 12 weeks while an employee is on pregnancy leave.

In order to be adopted, the changes must be approved by the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, a legislative panel. If the panel approves the changes, they could take effect as early as September. Even if these regulations are adopted, employees maternity rights will continue to be a minefield for employers in Ohio. These new rules, however, are not groundbreaking, and should not cause any change in the law or how companies administer maternity leaves.