You are the owner of a small salon, and one of your hair stylists just informed you that she is three months pregnant. She would like to take time off when the baby arrives. You’re unsure of the best course of action– you don’t have many employees and don’t want to risk losing her clients. What can you do?
Federal law requires employers to give up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to new mothers who have been employed for 1 year or 1,250 hours. However, this only applies to employers with 50 or more employees. If you have less than 50 employees, this law probably doesn't apply to you.
However, some states, like California, have special laws that apply to pregnant women. These laws frequently apply to almost all employers, regardless of the number of employees. California's law, for example, applies to employers with 5 or more employees and requires them to give 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth of the baby or for pregnancy-related disabilities. You should check to see whether your state or local laws governing maternity leave might apply to your business.
If your business is required to give this employee a leave of absence, that does not mean you have to go without help while she is gone. If you cannot redistribute her clients during her absence, you can hire a stylist to replace her for the time she is on leave. However, when she is ready to come back to work, you will need to give her the job back. To avoid any problems, you should tell the replacement stylist that the job is temporary and that you plan to let them go when your employee returns from leave.
One final comment, the application of leave laws is very complicated. You should be very careful in offering and administering them and carefully consider getting outside help from counsel if you are unsure about how to do so.
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About the author: Edward M. Cramp is the managing partner of the San Diego office of law firm Duane Morris LLP. He advises business clients in all areas of operations, including the application of state and federal laws and regulations, mergers and acquisitions, licensing, trademark and copyright, and a diverse array of other legal issues. He can be reached at EMCramp@duanemorris.com.