The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued new enforcement guidance on pregnancy discrimination and related issues on July 14, providing detailed examples of the agency’s views on proper compliance with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as they apply to pregnant workers. This comes a mere two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a PDA suit against UPS, Inc., which has the potential to obviate any guidance that does not conform with the Court’s eventual holdings.
The guidance takes an expansive view on employers’ obligations under the PDA. The PDA was a 1978 Amendment to Title VII that required “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions” must be treated the same “as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” The ADA requires reasonable accommodation for qualified disabled workers. The EEOC’s guidance essentially reads this reasonable accommodation requirement into the PDA, creating new obligations for employers at the federal level.
While many state laws are beginning to require accommodation of routine pregnancy related issues such as required extra breaks and time for nursing, the ADA had only protected pregnancy related conditions that rise to the level of a “disability,” such as gestational diabetes. The new EEOC guidance implies that employers must provide some sort of accommodation for routine pregnancy related issues, creating confusion among employers regarding their further obligations.
The Supreme Court’s future ruling on the PDA may tweak this guidance, however it will not consider the 2008 ADA Amendments Act, which took a broad view of what constitutes a disability. Therefore, there is the chance that these new obligations will continue to set a baseline standard and be persuasive in federal discrimination claims. While all employers should carefully review this guidance, employers who do not already have a pregnancy accommodation protocol in place due to state law or corporate policy should revisit their obligations under federal law.