Unpaid Maternity Leave
We are a small company with a total of 9 employees. I have an employee who got pregnant a few months into her job. She has been with the company for only 10 months and wants to take a maternity leave for 6 months. She is a not a high-performing person anyway, so I want to allow it and let her keep the health insurance but make her own payments. I have the following questions:
1. Is it better to let her go with a severance package to keep her insurance for another month?
2. Is it even possible to keep her on insurance for a 6-month unpaid leave?
3. Should I get her COBRA insurance instead?
4. What if I hire someone to replace her and when she is ready to come back I don’t have work for her?
Thanks in advance.
You sound very kind. My heart started racing from anxiety as I read your post. If it were me (an employer with fewer than 50 employees) and I was dealing with a less-than-stellar employee, I would not consider providing maternity leave – paid or unpaid. Even if you were required to do so (which you aren’t due to your company size), it wouldn’t apply to an employee who’s worked for you for less than a year. And even if it did (which it doesn’t), it never extends for 6 months. Her request is unreasonable.
So I recommend your option 1. I’s much better to let her submit her notice, and then offer her severance if she provides say, 2 weeks advance notice. Again, that’s above and beyond what you need to do. In addition, since you already provide insurance, she’ll be eligible for COBRA. As an employer with so few employees, you’re not required to offer FMLA at all. (However, some states have sick leave laws you must comply with. See attached articles.) Also, regarding your question 2, your insurer would not likely allow that option.
A small business can’t afford to hold someone’s job open for six months. However, you can let her know she’s eligible to apply in the future, if you have a position open. There’s no guarantee in that. (The reason FMLA doesn’t kick in until you have 50 employees, is that even lawmakers understand that a smaller business would be in a huge hurt if they had to hold folks jobs open!)
Keep in mind whatever options you offer to one employee, you must offer to all. So before the next employee asks for leave, consider what your policy should be, and get it documented. You don’t want to set yourself up for a future employment lawsuit just because you did a favor for one employee.
Laura, SPHR, MAEd
p.s. Since we’re not licensed attorneys, consider talking to a labor law attorney familiar with your state’s requirements for specific details and policy suggestions.
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