What You Wanted To Know – Doctor Appointments

pregnant-doctorToday when I looked at what search keywords are being used to find The Maternity Leave Coach it was very clear what’s on expectant mother’s minds… taking time off of work for doctor’s appointments. So, you ask and I deliver.  Here are some Q&A that will hopefully answer some burning questions.  AND… while you’re here be sure to check out the new Maternity Leave Prep Kit that will bring everything you need to know about preparing for maternity leave into one handy guide.  $9.99 is a small price to pay for the stress-relief of getting a plan in place.  Look to the right of the page to order your copy today.

Q. Can I use FMLA leave during my pregnancy or only after the birth of my child?

A. Yes. Employees can use FMLA leave during their pregnancy or after the birth of their child. Under the regulations, a mother can use 12 weeks of FMLA leave for the birth of a child, for prenatal care and incapacity related to pregnancy, and for her own serious health condition following the birth of a child. A father can use FMLA leave for the birth of a child and to care for his spouse who is incapacitated (due to pregnancy or child birth).

Q. I am expecting and would like to count the time I spend  at pregnancy-related doctor’s appointments as FMLA leave. Is my employer obligated to allow intermittent leave for my doctor’s appointments?

A. “Intermittent leave” is FMLA leave taken in separate blocks of time due to a single reason. The FMLA regulations allow an employee to take intermittent or reduced-schedule leave when medically necessary due to the serious health condition of the employee (or of the employee’s family member).

A “serious health condition” under the FMLA includes “any period of incapacity related to pregnancy” as well as prenatal care. Therefore, if you need time off to attend prenatal examinations, this time qualifies as FMLA leave and you are entitled to take leave on an intermittent basis.

Also, keep in mind that an expectant mother who is incapacitated because of pregnancy—for example because of severe morning sickness—would be entitled to leave even if she does not receive treatment from a health care provider during the absence and even if the absence does not last more than three days.

Q: My husband would like to attend all my prenatal appointments prior to birth and have it covered by FMLA from his employer.  I understand that prenatal visits are covered under the FMLA for the expectant mother, but can the husband take FMLA leave for this reason? 

A: You are correct that the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can be used by the pregnant mother to take time off for prenatal visits. However, it is not so clear cut that time off for prenatal visits is limited to the pregnant mother, particularly if the mother is having any sort of complications related to the pregnancy.

From the FMLA Policy

“The husband is entitled to FMLA leave if needed to care for his pregnant spouse who is incapacitated or if needed to care for her during her prenatal care, or if needed to care for the spouse following the birth of a child if the spouse has a serious health condition.”

The key in this section for your situation is the “needed to care for her during her prenatal care.” According to the FMLA regulations, “needed to care for” may encompass both physical and psychological care. For example, it includes situations where, because of the serious health condition, the family member is unable to care for her own basic medical, hygienic, or nutritional needs or is unable to transport herself to the doctor.  In addition, an employee may present medical certification that he is needed to provide physical care for a pregnant spouse or to provide “psychological comfort and reassurance” for a spouse who is receiving inpatient or home care.

So, if the pregnant spouse is unable to care for herself or to drive herself to the doctor’s appointments, the husband may take FMLA leave to take her to prenatal appointments. What is less clear, though, is whether the pregnant spouse could claim that her husband is needed for psychological comfort and reassurance when the pregnant spouse is not homebound or in the hospital. For example, it is unclear whether a pregnant spouse with a history of miscarriages (but no underlying identifiable risk for the current pregnancy) could argue that she needs the psychological care of her husband during a prenatal visit that could reveal a problem with the pregnancy. If the employee could provide medical certification of past complications or that the pregnancy is “high risk” because of age or past miscarriages (even if the spouse is not experiencing any current complications), you probably could legitimately classify this time off as FMLA leave.

Even if you are having a normal, uncomplicated pregnancy, so that the prenatal visits may not be covered by the FMLA, employers would do good to try to work with the male employee to provide him with time off to take his wife to the prenatal appointments. Clearly, it is important to him to attend these appointments, so if employers can find a way to work it out, he likely would be very appreciative. For example, could he take personal time off or even sick time to attend these appointments under other time off policies? Or, could he work a flexible schedule where he takes the time off in the middle of the day but then can make up the work at a later time (assuming no overtime would be incurred)? Any flexibility employers can provide to your employees to allow them to take care of important personal business is a good policy choice so ask your husband to talk with his manager or HR representative to see what is possible.

One thing to remember is that if your husband uses FMLA leave now to attend the appointments, he will be cutting into the time that would be available to him after the baby is born.  You will want to plan out when and how you use any available FMLA leave so you can maximize your time during pregnancy and after the baby is born.

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