Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, is making headlines this year because she was pregnant at the time Yahoo hired her to be CEO.  She made more headlines today because she announced an abbreviated maternity leave (only a few weeks and will work throughout that leave).  Her hiring and this announcement raise many issues facing most American companies today.  One issue is dealing with work/life balance issues.  At the same time, many companies do not make the decision to hire a pregnant employee.  EEOC statistics show that pregnancy discrimination claims are on the rise in the last 10 years.     

All the eyes on Wall Street may be on Mayer’s attempts to turnaround Yahoo.  But, working moms will also be judging her on many issues and whether she improves the opportunities for women returning to work after maternity leaves. 

The FMLA guarantees eligible employees the right to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave following the birth or adoption of a child.  Mayer technically is not an eligible employee – having been employed by Yahoo for less than one year.  (I am ignoring her rights under the California Pregnancy Disability Leave Law).  Additionally, someone in Mayer’s position (who was FMLA eligible) is certainly a “key employee” under the FMLA.  Meaning that while Yahoo does not have the right to deny her leave, it would have the right to refuse to reinstate her to CEO if it could demonstrate the return to work would cause a “substantial and grevious economic injury.”  We should assume that Yahoo and Mayer discussed her taking leave when she disclosed she was pregnant.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits discrimination against women due to their pregnancy in all aspects of employment. 

Those are the facts under the law.  What the law does not provide any guidance with is the balance between work and life.  Companies face ongoing issues in attracting and retaining talent.   We have clients who provide flexible work schedules, telecommuting options, job sharing, and other options to employees with varying degrees of success.  Having these policies is not enough.  To be successful, they must be supported by management and success stories must be shared.  Perhaps Mayer will provide a working example of how to make these policies a success.