The birth of a baby is often a joyful event, but it can cause disruption to a veterinarian’s career. As a veterinary practice owner, you may want to know how you can support employees who are about to become parents, as well as minimize the effect on your business. Here are some facts and tips that can help.
Maternity Leave Regulations
The federal Family Medical Leave Act obliges employers with 50 or more employees to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to allow employees to care for newborn babies or other family members, or to attend to their own medical conditions. As this law applies only to companies with at least 50 employees, it is not applicable to many small veterinary practices. However, some states have their own laws regarding maternity leave, so it is essential to check out the requirements for your state before setting the policy for your veterinary practice.
How Much Maternity Leave to Provide
A veterinary practice can be a tough place to work for a heavily pregnant woman or a woman who has just given birth. Employees may not be able to perform tasks that require heavy lifting in the latest stages of pregnancy or after a cesarean section. As a veterinary employer, you need to provide accommodations for employees who are not able to perform certain duties, such as getting another employee to lift animal patients up onto the examining table. In addition, exposure to radiation and anesthetic gases needs to be addressed. Depending on the degree of accommodations required, you may find it more convenient to offer a period of maternity leave so your employee can focus on delivering a healthy baby and recovering from the birth.
Paid or Unpaid?
Most employers offer pregnancy leave without pay, although there are good reasons to consider putting in place a paid maternity leave program. Today, the numbers of male and female veterinarians are roughly the same, but enrollment in veterinary medical colleges is about 80 percent female. As these women graduate and begin to look for jobs, it is likely that they will take their family plans into account during their search. By offering a paid maternity leave program, you can attract top female talent to your veterinary practice.
If you run a very small veterinary practice with only a few employees, temporarily losing a veterinarian to maternity leave can present challenges. Relief veterinarians can help you cope and avoid the temptation to rush a new mother back to work before she is ready to return. It is a good idea to find a reliable relief veterinarian long before you need one to cover a period of maternity leave. Relief veterinarians can be classed as either independent contractors or part-time employees depending on the precise relationship between the veterinarian and your practice, so be sure you understand the differences and the legal implications in each case.
Managing the Return to Work
When employees return to work after maternity leave, it is a good idea to meet with them and discuss any accommodations they will need during the first few weeks back on the job. For example, offering lactation breaks can help employees who are still nursing a child to express milk. Over the long term, employees who are now parents of young children may require extra flexibility in their working hours. If you can provide these accommodations, you increase the probability of retaining talented employees who are also proud parents.
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