Labor & Employment
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently issued new enforcement guidance on pregnancy discrimination for the first time in 30 years. The new guidance clarifies the EEOC's understanding of the law, as well as expands the requirements of employers to accommodate pregnant employees.
Although this new guidance comes approximately 30 years after the last substantial change to pregnancy discrimination law, it should come as no surprise since there has been a 46 percent increase in pregnancy-related complaints to the EEOC between 1997 and 2011. In addition to addressing the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the EEOC clarified the ways in which the PDA interacts with several other statutes including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), the Affordable Care Act and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Some of the new requirements imposed by the agency include the following:
• Pregnancy-related conditions will likely be considered disabilities covered by the ADA – despite the fact that pregnancy is not a disability under the ADA. This means that in most cases employers must provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. Reasonable accommodations include medical leaves of absence and modification of job duties.
• Employers who provide light duty assignments to employees who have been injured on the job must also provide light duty assignments for pregnant employees.
• Employers who provide health insurance benefits for preventative care (such as vaccinations, physical examinations or prescription drugs for high blood pressure) must also cover prescription contraceptives. Notably, although the U.S. Supreme Court recently permitted an exception under the Affordable Care Act from contraceptive coverage for certain employers with religious objections, this guidance does not make exception for religious employers or those with religious beliefs that would object to providing this type of coverage.
The EEOC has made clear that enforcing the Pregnancy Discrimination Act using this expansive view of the law is a priority for the agency. Employers should be proactive and ensure compliance with the enforcement guidelines. Best practices include:
• Training management and front-line supervisors to recognize and properly address any accommodation requirements arising out of a pregnancy-related condition.
• Revising the company's light duty policies.
• Designing a process to respond to reasonable accommodation requests made by employees.
• Develop or update your policies and handbooks to address the requirements of the PDA, as well as the ADA.