Maternity leave varies case-by-case for faculty

Shelley Blundell

About 68 million women occupy the workforce and 27 percent leave work when they become pregnant.

Credit: Andrew popik

Ronica Rooks and her husband had been trying for a while to have children.

So when Rooks, assistant professor of sociology at Kent State, became pregnant before her first semester at the university, it was a big surprise for her and her department, which had not seen a pregnancy in more than 30 years.

“I had only been employed for a short while at Kent at that time; a little less than a year,” Rooks said. “So people were generally receptive to the news but the administration was rather surprised — there was a lot of shuffling of schedules.

“It took them quite a long time to make a decision regarding my case.”

Rooks’ first child died shortly after childbirth, but she was still bound by the six-week sick-leave policy, after which she had to return to work.

“The second time I fell pregnant, I got a much different, pleasant response — there was a different administrator and I was able to plan classes and schedules much better this time,” Rooks said.

For her second birth, Rooks had a caesarean section, extending her sick-leave time to eight weeks.

After her first pregnancy, Rooks had done some research regarding maternity leave and was surprised to discover Kent State had no official maternity-leave policy, especially because it is a state university.

But Kent State is not alone.

Rooks looked further and found that a lot of Ohio’s state universities have no official maternity policy. Instead, they let maternity leave fall under sick-leave policies and work to comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act.

“Possibly the most unsettling thing about my experience is that Kent State deals with pregnancy issues on a case-by-case basis,” Rooks said.

“Because each person is not treated equally, the university is possibly leaving themselves open to a discrimination claim.”

According to the Department of Labor, women comprise about 47 percent of the total labor force, and the DOL anticipated women would account for more than half of the increase in total labor force growth from 2002 until 2012. Added to this statistic, almost 27 percent of women leave the work force once they become pregnant, either through choice or through force.

“Leaving my job is not a luxury I have — I need to work for many reasons,” Rooks said.

Dale Richards, senior human resources consultant for Kent State, said the university has two main policies covering maternity leave.

The first, covered by the sick-leave policy, allows time for recovery from a medical condition with full pay if sick leave time is accrued.

“Women typically take six weeks after the birth,” Richards said. “Some need more, some need less — it’s up to the individual.”

The second policy covers women who have no sick time left.

“They will receive unpaid leave if no sick time is accrued,” Richards said.

Richards also said that all health benefits, if the employee is part of the university’s benefits system, will continue during the period the employee is out.

As far as paternity or family leave is concerned, Richards said the university does grant immediate family members, such as a spouse, up to five days of leave to care for another family member.

While Richards said the leave was only granted for a specific medical reason, requiring the spouse to be home with the mother or child, he also said the university deals with each matter on a case-by-case basis.

Kent State’s official code of conduct outlines the rights of women in its employ in broad detail, dictating Kent State’s commitment to ensuring equal treatment and benefits of all employees. Also outlined in the code are policies regarding maternity leave, such as

a) pregnancy tests will not be a condition of employment nor will they be demanded of employees;

b) workers who take maternity leave will not face dismissal or threat of dismissal, or a reduction in seniority, benefits or wages upon returning to work;

c) all licensees under the code shall provide appropriate services and accommodation to women workers in connection with pregnancy.

Also, in compliance with the Family and Medical Leave act, up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per calendar year will be granted to an eligible employee in accordance with FMLA provisions, upon request and with proper medical certification.

Under the Child Care Leave policy, up to 12 weeks of unpaid child-care leave will be granted to an eligible employee during the first 12 months following childbirth or adoption.

Jocelyn Frye, director of legal and public policy for the National Partnership for Women and Families, was instrumental in compiling the NPWF’s July 2004 sex bias report.

“We looked at the data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and found a lot of information regarding discrimination in the workplace against women,” Frye said.

“The information regarding pregnancy discrimination was very complicated, however, and we’re attempting to break down the information into groups such as by race and ethnicity.”

Frye said while there has been a slight decrease in the amount of pregnancy discrimination complaints recently, there has been a marked increase over the past 10 years.

More than 25 years ago, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed as an amendment to the earlier Title VII laws, prohibiting women from being discriminated against in the workplace due to pregnancy.

According to the report, despite the fact that there are 68 million women in the American workforce, including 72.9 percent of women with children under 18 years old, the EEOC has seen a 39 percent increase in the number of pregnancy discrimination charges filed since fiscal year 1992.

“The trends for the future suggest a couple of things,” Frye said. “More women are choosing to work later into their pregnancies and come back sooner (after the birth) — women are making sure their jobs fit around their family choices.”

Frye also said more women are having to work to survive, especially those who choose to work and have a family.

The sex bias report also looks at issues concerning mothers and fathers who face discrimination due to family care responsibilities. It states: “Employers who believe ‘mothers do not belong in the workplace’ or ‘fathers do not belong in the traditionally feminine role of family caregiver’ may decide to exclude women, or men, from certain types of jobs.”

“The trends out there are troubling,” Frye said. “More women are having to deal with this, especially as more mothers remain in the workforce.”

Contact general assignment reporter Shelley Blundell at [email protected]