Thursday, November 15, 2018
 

Women's Issues Take Center Stage

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When it comes to benefit compliance, it's not your father's workforce anymore -- it's your mom's, too.

The political storm over the Obama administration's rule on birth control tops a number of recent developments that affect employers and how they handle certain issues pertaining to the female portion of their workforce.

Following a backlash from religious groups, the Obama administration offered a compromise on its rule that will require employers' plans to cover contraception services for women. According to a Business Insurance report, the government said nonprofit affiliates of religious organizations, such as universities and hospitals, will not be required to directly offer prescription birth control coverage. However, employees who wish to have access to those services will still be able to get them at no cost through their employer's health insurer. The rule will apply to plan years starting on or after Aug. 1, 2013.

Before the contraception debate caught the big headlines, the government had been making some moves with a separate rule that stems from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). A regulation folded into that legislation requires employers with 50 or more workers to provide time and a private place for workers who are nursing mothers to express breast milk.

The rule hasn't generated as much attention as other provisions of PPACA, but employers should take note of it, experts say. The Department of Labor has started to enforce the rule, investigating 23 companies and handing out 15 citations for violations in 2011, according to SmartHR Manager.

More than 64 percent of U.S. mothers with children under age 6 were in the workforce in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The healthy percentage of working moms with young children suggests that this rule has a high likelihood of touching most employers now or at some point in the future.

While the new rule will impact policies for companies after their female workers become moms, some employers are seeking compliance help for conflicts that involve employees while they're still pregnant.

Employers recently testified at a recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) hearing and requested more guidance on how to comply with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), according to a report in Workforce. Deane Ilukowicz, vice president of HR for Hypertherm Inc. in Hanover, N.H., noted in written testimony that the complex web of PDA, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws "can derail even companies who want to do the right thing."

Ilukowicz suggested the commission rework its PDA fact sheet and provide more case study examples.

At the hearing, an EEOC spokesman reiterated the commission's commitment to the enforcement of PDA, warning employers to avoid "stereotypes or presumptions about the competence and commitment" of workers who are pregnant.

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