Ohio may soon be ahead of the curve when it comes to the rights of pregnant workers.
The Ohio Civil Rights Commission has recommended that women be entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave as soon as they are hired.
The commission held a second public hearing on the proposed rule changes Wednesday in Columbus. New rules, which need approval from the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, could take effect by fall.
Some argue the proposed regulations, which would equate discrimination against pregnant employees with discrimination against women, might adversely affect small businesses or cause confusion for employers, since the state law would exceed what is required by the federal Family Medical Leave Act.
A Civil Rights Commission attorney counters that there is no conflict between the federal and proposed state laws, saying the Family Medical Leave Act established a floor of the rights of pregnant employees, not a ceiling.
The differences between the federal regs and the proposed legislation are in when the leave will be available and what size businesses are affected.
Under federal law, women receive 12 weeks of pregnancy leave once they have worked at least 1,250 hours in the preceding 12 months. The new state law would kick in as soon as the woman starts a job.
Both the federal and proposed state laws grant 12 weeks off. Neither requires that employees be paid during their leave. The state law, however, would apply to employers with four or more employees, whereas the federal law covers employers with 50 or more workers.
The state law also would require employers to offer a pregnant employee a light-duty assignment where possible and to reinstate a worker to her former position or an equivalent post when she returns to work.
We support these changes, believing the benefits outweigh the possible drawbacks.
First, women not rushed back to work are more likely to breast-feed something beneficial for both baby and mom, as well as employers.
Breast-fed infants have lower rates of hospital admissions, ear infections, diarrhea, rashes, allergies, and other medical problems than bottle-fed babies. Bottle-fed infants, meanwhile, tend to be fatter than breast-fed infants, but not necessarily healthier. In fact, some studies indicate infant formula contributes to this nation's obesity problem.
Mothers who choose bottle-feeding or wean completely on return to work actually set themselves up for more frequent absences from work due to a baby who is more likely to get sick.
All of that contributes to the health-care costs.
Second, some psychologists say the mother-infant bond provides the psychological foundation and maybe even the social and physical buffer a person needs to thrive in the world. Infants who securely attach to their mothers become more self-reliant toddlers and have a better sense of self-esteem. The bond cannot be developed if the infant goes to daycare.
Third, it won't cost business anything. Women working at a small business deserve the same consideration they receive at larger companies. All employers need to do is either hire temps at the same rate or if they want to save money ask coworkers to pick up the slack.