Did you know that March is Women's History Month? According to the Women's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), over 4.6 million women were employed in the U.S. in 2010, and women comprised nearly 47% of the total U.S. labor force in that year.
Women's History Month is a good time for employers to take a look at some of the laws in the news recently that affect working women, and to evaluate their workplace policies and practices in light of women at work. Here are three key areas to focus on:
1. Keep on Top of Laws Affecting Women at Work
- The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles eligible employees of covered employers (generally those with 50 or more employees) to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period for, among other reasons, the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child. Last year, the DOL announced steps to collect new information on current workplace policies and practices related to family and medical leave to help the agency craft interpretive guidance, develop compliance programs, and establish regulatory priorities.
- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently reported that discrimination based on pregnancy and caregiving responsibilities continues to be a widespread problem. Under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which applies to employers with 15 or more employees, discrimination against female employees based on pregnancy is prohibited with respect to any aspect of employment. Employers may also be required to offer short-term disability benefits and/or reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- States may have laws providing similar protections for employees of smaller employers, so it is important to check your state law and contact your state labor department, if necessary, to learn about additional requirements that may apply to your business.
- As a result of new rules under Health Care Reform, non-grandfathered group health plans are required to cover certain preventive services for women with no cost sharing. If you offer health insurance to your workers, you'll want to stay on top of the latest requirements.
- The Health Care Reform law also requires employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child, for one year after birth. Employers must provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk. Check out this fact sheet for more information.
2. Consider Offering Your Employees Flex-Time
A flexible work schedule is an alternative to the traditional 9 to 5 workweek, allowing employees to vary their arrival and/or departure times. Though not necessarily a women's issue, female employees may appreciate the opportunity to work around their family commitments, especially if they have caregiver responsibilities outside of the office.
- According to the EEOC, discrimination against workers with caregiving responsibilities may be unlawful under federal employment discrimination laws. The EEOC offers some useful guidance for employers that may be facing these issues.
- Employers interested in offering flex-time should also check out the resources available from the DOL, the Women's Bureau of the DOL and the U.S. Small Business Administration.
3. Review Your Sexual Harassment Policy
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law that applies to employers with 15 or more employees (note that states may have similar laws for employers with fewer than 15 employees). In certain instances, an employer can be held legally responsible for harassment by its supervisors.
Every employer can take steps to prevent sexual harassment from occurring and put employees on notice that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. As part of building your company's sexual harassment policy, consider providing sexual harassment training to all employees, establishing an effective complaint or grievance process, and establishing procedures for taking immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains of harassment.
The EEOC offers more information regarding sexual harassment in the workplace.
For More Information
Our section on Discrimination offers additional guidance on issues that may affect women at work. You can also check out the following resources that address issues relating to women in the workplace:
- U.S. Department of Labor: Find It! By Audience- Women
- U.S. Department of Labor's Women's Bureau
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Employer Best Practices for Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities
- U.S. Small Business Administration's Resources for Women
For information on other federal labor laws that your company must comply with, download our free Federal Labor Laws by Company Size Chart.
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