The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued new guidelines on pregnancy discrimination that afford greater protections to pregnant workers under the federal Pregnancy Disability Act.
For example, if a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, the guidelines state that her employer must treat her in the same way as it treats any other temporarily disabled employee. This could mean that the employer may have to provide light duty, alternative work assignments, disability leave, or unpaid leave to pregnant employees if it does so for other temporarily disabled employees.
In addition, the guidelines stress that a pregnancy-related disability may be covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a proposition that some courts had rejected until recently. Under these guidelines, an employer would have to provide a reasonable accommodation to a woman who is disabled by pregnancy, absent undue hardship to the employer.
Many states and municipalities are taking matters into their own hands and have passed or are passing sweeping pregnancy accommodation legislation. Jurisdictions such as New Jersey, California, and New York City now require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women and those who suffer medical conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth. This could include anything from providing an employee with more frequent bathroom breaks to assisting her with non-manual labor. Other states and cities have proposed similar legislation as the accommodation wave continues to sweep the nation.
Employers should investigate whether they reside in a jurisdiction with proposed or enacted pregnancy accommodation reforms. Regardless of where they do business, employers in the U.S. should examine their accommodation policies to ensure they are truly “pregnancy-blind” and do not run afoul of the PDA.