EEOC Update: Pregnancy Discrimination

On July 14, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues along with a question and answer document about the guidance and a Fact Sheet for Small Businesses. This marks the first comprehensive update on the subject of discrimination against pregnant workers since the 1983 publication of a Compliance Manual chapter on the subject.

The guidance sets out the fundamental requirements of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA): that an employer may not discriminate against an employee on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions; and that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions must be treated the same as other persons similar in their ability or inability to work.

The guidance also explains how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) definition of “disability” might apply to workers with impairments related to pregnancy.

Specific items addressed include:

  • The fact that the PDA covers not only current pregnancy, but discrimination based on past pregnancy and a woman’s potential to become pregnant;

  • Lactation as a covered pregnancy-related medical condition;

  • The circumstances under which employers may have to provide light duty for pregnant workers;

  • Issues related to leave for pregnancy and for medical conditions related to pregnancy;

  • The PDA’s prohibition against requiring pregnant workers who are able to do their jobs to take leave;

  • The requirement that parental leave (which is distinct from medical leave associated with childbearing or recovering from childbirth) be provided to similarly situated men and women on the same terms;

  • When employers may have to provide reasonable accommodations for workers with pregnancy-related impairments under the ADA and the types of accommodations that may be necessary; and

  • Best practices for employers to avoid unlawful discrimination against pregnant workers

This EEOC guidance comes on the heels of a recent Supreme Court decision (Peguy Delva vs. The Continental Group, Inc.) making pregnancy discrimination illegal under Florida state law. The Court ruled that the 1992 Florida Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status”, includes pregnant women even though the condition is not specifically identified in the law. The decision arrived at an opportune time when the state legislature was working to fill the gap between state civil rights protection and federal law.

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