COLUMBUS – The Ohio Civil Rights Commission won`t honor the governor`s request to delay a hearing on a requirement that companies with four or more employees allow women 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave.
Chairwoman Barbara Sykes, appointed to the job by Gov. Ted Strickland in August, said Friday she won`t try to stop a legislative hearing Dec. 3 over the requirement.
Kent Markus, Strickland`s top office attorney, asked Sykes on Tuesday to delay the hearing to make sure small businesses have the chance to voice their concerns about the proposal.
Sykes said she asked the other members of the five-person commission their thoughts on Markus` request. The majority declined to go along, she said.
“It is the position of the commissioners that we should proceed,” Sykes said. “That is the position of the commission, and I am the chair of the commission and so I am also taking that position.”
Her view was in no way meant to show a lack of respect for Strickland, Sykes said.
“I have responsibilities on this commission, he has responsibilities as governor,” Sykes said. “The commissioners as a whole feel that they have done their due diligence with this issue and that we should proceed.”
A Strickland spokeswoman said Friday the governor was disappointed with the commission`s decision.
“While the governor is supportive of the goal, a change this major needs to ensure that Ohio businesses have time to fully understand the implications of the proposed rule change and have time to communicate their thoughts and concerns,” spokeswoman Amanda Wurst said.
Sykes and Strickland are Democrats. Sykes, a former state representative from Akron, ran an unsuccessful campaign for state auditor last year, the only Democrat running for statewide office to lose.
The commission has allowed a full debate of the proposal, including a public hearing in August in which business groups raised concerns about the plan, said Toni Delgado, a spokeswoman for the commission. The civil rights agency took many of those concerns into consideration, she said.
The commission voted 4-1 in favor of the change last month.
“It`s about time to define what`s reasonable time off for this protected class of women in the state of Ohio,” Delgado said.
With the requirement, Ohio would join at least 18 other states that provide more generous maternity benefits than required in federal mandates.
Federal law says companies with at least 50 employees must allow new mothers who have worked at least 1,250 hours in the preceding year to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Current state law requires companies to give women a “reasonable period of time” off work to care for their newborn.
Sykes said the change was necessary because the interpretation of a “reasonable period of time” varied widely.
The proposal “didn`t happen overnight, and it didn`t happen regardless of the businesses,” she said. “The commissioners are very supportive of businesses.”
The new policy would apply to all women regardless of how long they`ve worked at a company. Supporters say the changes would reflect that pregnancies cannot always be planned around what is most convenient for an employer and that women shouldn`t have to fear losing a job because they become pregnant.