The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued new Enforcement Guidance this month regarding pregnancy discrimination. This is the first comprehensive update to the EEOC’s Pregnancy Discrimination Guidance since 1983. The Guidance discusses employer practices that the EEOC considers permissible and impermissible based on its interpretation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It reiterates well-established law on pregnancy discrimination, but also arguably expands the reach of the current law by requiring accommodation of pregnancy under the PDA and ADA (as amended by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA)), and by stating that employers should treat pregnant employees in the same manner as similarly situated employees injured on the job.
The PDA prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The ADA prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of disability and requires that an employer provide reasonable accommodation for an employee or applicant with a disability. Pregnancy itself is not a disability under the ADA, but pregnant employees and applicants are not excluded from its protections. The EEOC’s Guidance explains that changes to the definition of “disability” in the ADAAA made it easier for workers with pregnancy-related impairments to demonstrate the need for reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Prior to the ADAAA, courts typically held that medical conditions related to pregnancy were not impairments within the meaning of the ADA. But a broader range of temporary impairments associated with pregnancy may qualify as disabilities under the ADAAA – at least where employees can show that pregnancy-related conditions substantially limit their ability to perform one or more major life activities.
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