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The EEOC Updates the Pregnancy Discrimination Act

Katlyn Joy |23, July 2014


The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has done a major overhaul and update to its 1983 Compliance Manual chapter on pregnancy discrimination. This new document supersedes the chapter from 1983 and incorporates legal changes made over the past few decades.

The update also addresses the 2008 amended the Americans with Disabilities Act, in particular explaining how disability is addressed in the ADA and how certain pregnancy complications may fall into some categories. Both the PDA and the ADA apply to businesses and employers with over 15 employees.

EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien said, "Pregnancy is not a justification for excluding women from jobs that they are qualified to perform, and it cannot be a basis for denying employment or treating women less favorably than co-workers similar in their ability or inability to work."

She continued, "Despite much progress, we continue to see a significant number of charges alleging pregnancy discrimination, and our investigations have revealed the persistence of overt pregnancy discrimination, as well as the emergence of more subtle discriminatory practices. This guidance will aid employers, job seekers, and workers in complying with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, and thus advance EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan priority of addressing the emerging issue of the interaction between these two anti-discrimination statutes."

The main thrust of the guidelines deal with when an employer's action would constitute discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. They also cover the topic of a pregnant worker's equal access to benefits such as leave and light work duties. Workers cannot be discriminated against on the basis of pregnancy, whether current, past or the ability to become pregnant according to the guidelines.

The guideline also deal with the rights of a woman regarding lactation, including her right to breastfeed or express milk if employees with other medical conditions are allowed breaks for other reasons. It also addresses the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that requires employers to provide hourly workers a private space and reasonable time to express milk.

It's against the law to harass a worker for pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. Harassment is illegal when it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or it causes an adverse work decision such as termination or demotion.

If employers provide light duty assignments to other workers based on medical conditions or injuries, that same benefit must be extended to pregnant workers providing those workers are similar in their ability or inability to do the same jobs.

While an employer is not restricted about asking a potential employee about plans to become pregnant, the EEOC recommends against it. Furthermore, should a claim later arise about discrimination due to pregnancy, the agency will take into account that the question was asked when considering the validity of the claim of discrimination.

The kinds of medical conditions related to pregnancy that the EEOC refers to include pre-eclampsia , which is pregnancy induced hypertension, gestational diabetes, and conditions requiring bedrest. Also included are after effects of giving birth.

The guidelines also address situations where an employer may state that a woman is unable to perform her job duties out of concern for her health in relation to her pregnancy. For instance, she cannot be denied promotion, duties or such based on the blanket statement that it isn't safe for a pregnant woman. Unless a woman's pregnancy has required her to ask for changes, such as another worker would be allowed as a medical condition, the employer cannot restrict her job out of concern for her health or the health of her fetus.

Under the ADA reasonable accommodations can be made to pregnant women including such things as modifying a work schedule to help deal with morning sickness, allowing a woman on bedrest to work through telecommuting, modifying typical policies such as allowing more frequent breaks to allow a woman to use the restroom more frequently, or to allow a pregnant woman to have a water bottle at her work station although other employees are not usually allowed, or temporary reassignment to a lighter duty while pregnant or recovering from childbirth.

To learn more, be sure to read the EEOC's update.

Published July 23, 2014.

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