Pregnancy Discrimination Is Focus of EEOC’s Updated Enforcement Guidance


On July 14, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released enforcement guidance on pregnancy discrimination and related issues, its first comprehensive update in 30 years. The guidance covers the requirements of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) and the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) to those with pregnancy-related disabilities.

The guidance discusses the scope of the PDA. The PDA, which expanded the definition of “sex” discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. The EEOC emphasized that this includes discrimination based not only on current pregnancy but also on past pregnancy or the intention to become pregnant. Another covered area is lactation, and discrimination based on a breastfeeding schedule is thus prohibited.

Other focus areas include treatment in the workplace and what employment benefits employers need to provide. The guidance emphasizes that employers must treat women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions the same as other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work. Highlights include —

  • Light Duty: An employer that offers its employees temporary work that is less physically demanding than their normal duties — due to an on-the-job injury, for example — cannot deny it to employees in similar circumstances based on pregnancy;
  • Leave: Under the PDA, pregnant employees who are willing and able to do their jobs may not be forced to take leave;
  • Parental Leave: Employers must treat similarly situated men and women the same when offering parental leave, such as to bond with or care for a newborn; and
  • Medical Benefits:If employers offer health insurance benefits, the terms and conditions for pregnancy-related benefits cannot differ from those applicable to other medical conditions. For example, an employer insurance plan that covers preventive care for medical conditions other than pregnancy cannot exclude coverage of prescription contraceptives. The EEOC noted that its guidance aims to clarify the prohibition of pregnancy discrimination and does not address religious exemptions such as those involved in the recent Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

In addition, the guidance addresses when — and what type of — reasonable accommodations under the ADA (which prohibits discrimination against disabled employees) are called for regarding pregnancy-related impairments. In support of this, the EEOC pointed to the 2008 expansion, via the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA), of the definition of disability to include employees with conditions requiring work-related restrictions like those needed by pregnant women. The EEOC pointed to the example of an employee with a back injury who needs a 20-pound lifting restriction for several months, and who would be entitled to reasonable accommodation under the ADA, as an appropriate comparison. The issue may resurface this fall, when the Court will hear an appeal in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., a case involving UPS’s rejection of a driver’s request for restrictions on the amount of weight she was required to lift during her pregnancy.

The EEOC also highlighted best practices for employers to prevent discrimination against pregnant employees. Not surprisingly, the EEOC emphasized the importance of training managers and employees regularly about their rights and responsibilities in this area.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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