The Ohio Civil Rights Commission recently announced dramatic amendments to the state’s pregnancy discrimination regulations. (Ohio Adm. Code 4112-5-05). Until now, employers only had to allow a “reasonable period of time” for pregnancy leave. “Reasonable period of time” has been interpreted in many different ways and the period of leave granted varied from employer to employer. Under the new amendments, a minimum of twelve weeks of unpaid leave must be provided for “pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.” In addition, at the end of the leave the employee must be reinstated to “her original position or to a position of like status and pay, without loss of service credits or other benefits.”

If your current policy provides for less than twelve weeks of pregnancy leave, immediate revision of your policies may be necessary. The new regulation states that limiting pregnancy leave to less than twelve weeks will be considered sex discrimination, unless required for business reasons.

Light duty issues can also be impacted by this new regulation, as pregnant employees must now be treated the same as other workers who have temporary work restrictions.

As a result of these new amendments, pregnant employees now have greater protection under Ohio law than under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). For example, the Ohio rule applies to employers employing as few as four employees (the FMLA doesn’t apply until a company has 50 workers). Also, the Ohio regulation has no eligibility requirements – thus, there is no minimum number of hours the employee must work before these rights are triggered. There are also other questions to be answered as to how this new state regulation interplays with the federal FMLA. (For example, unlike the FMLA, only women are protected by this new rule, not fathers.)