On Monday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a new enforcement guidance dealing with employer obligations under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. While repeating settled law regarding employer obligations to pregnant employees, the new guidance also addresses employers’ duty to provide light duty to employees with pregnancy-related restrictions.
Light duty is typically provided to employees with work restrictions relating to a Workers’ Compensation claim. It is not required as an ADA accommodation to disabled employees in general, because light duty usually involves reassignment of essential job functions. As reported in EmployNews last week, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the question of whether employers that provide light duty to injured workers must provide the same accommodation to pregnant ones.
The EEOC decided not to wait for the Supreme Court to act, concluding in the guidance that employers have an accommodation obligation under the PDA if they provide such options to similarly situated non-pregnant employees. Presumably the EEOC will not seek to enforce this guidance in the Fourth Circuit (including North and South Carolina) unless the Supreme Court overturns the circuit decision that is the basis of is pending review.
The guidance contains other new or expanded EEOC enforcement positions. The agency states that some pregnancy complications can be considered ADA disabilities under the expanded definitions contained in the ADA Amendments Act. This would trigger ADA accommodation obligations such as leave or job modification. In another section, the guidance states that employers cannot force pregnant employees to take leave if they can perform their jobs within the terms of any pregnancy-related medical restrictions.
The pending Supreme Court case may make portions of the new guidance moot. If nothing else, it reflects an increasingly aggressive interpretation of the PDA as part of the agency’s effort to address what it considers to be continuing discrimination against pregnant employees.