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A baby on the way: Mitigating risk while supporting pregnant employees

February 28, 2022 4012

Learn from CDA Practice Support’s guidance for California dentists on how to handle the obligations associated with managing pregnant employees’ accommodations, benefits, leave and return rights and pay obligations.

Births in the United States increased by 3% in June, the highest level of growth seen since 2013. When a pregnancy announcement is made by a member of your dental practice staff, the joyful news prompts many questions and concerns — for the dentist and the staff, as well as the expectant employee. The following recommendations and resources from CDA Practice Support can guide you when managing pregnant employees’ accommodations, benefits, leave and return rights and pay obligations.

Baby on the way

Once you’ve been notified of an employee’s pregnancy, it’s your opportunity to say “Congratulations!” and provide a copy of “Your Rights and Obligations as a Pregnant Employee” (DFEH-E09P-ENG). This notice developed by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing covers the steps involved with reasonable accommodations and notice and timing obligations from both parties along with return rights.

Practice policies related to pregnancy and leaves of absence should be documented in your employee manual and reviewed with your expectant employee. Establish an office policy that all pregnant employees should provide a letter from a health care provider stating the estimated delivery date, any special accommodations, work limitations and probable duration of the disability and keep a copy of these letters in a separate confidential personnel file.

Waiting for the stork

As an employer, it’s your obligation is to assess if there are any risks within the workplace for your pregnant employee. Office staff should be aware of workplace risks and discuss ways in which accommodations can be made without drastically altering the office environment.

Radiation exposure is one well-recognized risk to the pregnancy. You can inform an expectant employee of the risks of radiation exposure by providing a copy of Section XIII of the Radiation Safety in Dental Practice |A Study Guide and should provide a monitoring device (dosimeter) to wear while in the office. CDA Practice Support offers a form to document employees have been informed of occupational radiation exposure and exposure to an embryo-fetus as required by law.

This is also the time to strategize how your team will handle the workload during the pregnant employee’s leave of absence. You will most likely need to hire a temporary employee to fill in. Most labor laws apply to temporary employees, so be prepared to provide the same robust onboarding, training and documentation you would for a permanent hire.

A pregnant pause

California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave law grants up to four months of protected leave to both full- and part-time employees disabled by pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition. While the law states that employers of five or more employees must provide PDL, it is a recommended best practice that even employers with less than five employees provide pregnancy leave.

Granting an employee’s request for PDL is a guarantee that the employee will be able to return to the same position or a comparable one following the leave. This leave does not need to be taken in a continuous period and can be taken intermittently or on a reduced work schedule, when necessary, as determined by the employee’s health care provider.

PDL is generally unpaid by the employer, but employees may be allowed to use accrued paid sick leave or required to exhaust available vacation time prior to taking unpaid leave per your practice’s written policy. During PDL, employers are obligated to continue group health benefits under the same terms as if the employee is still working. The employee may also be eligible to apply for State Disability Insurance wage replacement benefits through the Employment Development Department.

CDA has made it easier to keep track of the variety of documentation and other time off available to the employee with a Pregnancy Disability Leave Compliance Checklist.

Back to work after baby

Birth can be unpredictable, so the plans you make with your pregnant employee should have some flexibility. Communicate in advance that if the employee’s return date changes, they should provide an update as soon as practical, supported by a notice from their health care provider. The health care provider’s release from PDL date is especially important to track when designating an eligible employee’s continuation date of baby bonding leave under the California Family Rights Act.

Before an employee on pregnancy-related leave returns to work, ensure the office is ready to accommodate needs should the employee choose to breastfeed. State law requires employers to provide both a reasonable amount of time to accommodate an employee who desires to express breast milk for their infant child and a location (other than a bathroom) for the employee to express milk in private.

You can consider an employee’s request to change their schedule once they return from leave just as you would for any other employee requesting a schedule change. Employers are not obligated to make these schedule changes if the position or reduced schedule is unavailable in the practice or it is not a reasonable accommodation request based on a documented disability.

As with any topic involving the risk of discrimination claims, pregnancy disability leave must be handled as carefully as a newborn baby. The sooner that you and your employee understand the ins and outs of notices, leave/return rights and policies, the better.

CDA members have access to additional information and resources to navigate pregnancy disability leave, including What to Expect When Your Employee is ExpectingPregnancy, Maternity/Paternity and Baby Bonding Leave in California and Small Employer Guide to California Family Rights Act (CFRA). Federal and state family leave rights notices are also found in CDA’s Required Poster Set.