EEOC Issues New Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released updated enforcement guidance on pregnancy discrimination to help employers comply with both the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when addressing pregnancy-related issues.

The PDA states that an employer may not discriminate against an employee or applicant for employment on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition and that women impacted by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions must be treated the same as other persons similar in their ability or inability to work. The new EEOC guidance provides that the PDA not only covers a current pregnancy but also covers discrimination based on a past pregnancy or future pregnancy. The guidance also states that employers must provide light duty work for pregnant employees if the employer offers light duty assignments to employees with similar work restrictions as those who are not pregnant.

As you can see by looking at the guidance, it is quite lengthy. Here are some of the EEOC's key points all employers should know:

1) Despite the Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the EEOC states that employers can violate Title VII if they provide health insurance that excludes coverage of prescription contraceptives, whether the contraceptives are prescribed for birth control or for medical purposes. The EEOC states that in order to comply with the law, "an employer's health insurance plan must cover prescription contraceptives on the same basis as prescription drugs, devices, and services that are used to prevent the occurrence of medical conditions other than pregnancy. For example, if an employer's health insurance plan covers preventive care for medical conditions other than pregnancy, such as vaccinations, physical examinations, or prescription drugs to prevent high blood pressure or to lower cholesterol levels, then prescription contraceptives also must be covered." My colleague, Eric Athey, examined this issue in his review of the Hobby Lobby decision. While this issue is yet to be examined by a court, employers should think carefully before excluding coverage for contraception from their insurance plans.

2) Neither an employee nor an applicant can be subject to discrimination because of a past pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition. This means that employees must continue to treat new mothers with caution when recently pregnant employees return from maternity leave. An adverse employment decision in close proximity to an employee's return to work could lead to a discrimination claim.

3) If an employer provides light duty work for employees who are not pregnant but who are similar in their ability or inability to work, the employer must also provide less physically demanding light duty work for pregnant employees.

4) While leave related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions can be limited to only females impacted by those conditions, if an employer extends leave to new mothers beyond the period of recuperation from childbirth (and beyond the amount of leave granted by the FMLA), it cannot lawfully refuse to provide an equivalent amount of leave to new fathers for the same purpose—this, according to the EEOC, means that if employers provide additional leave to mothers to bond with children, they must provide the same benefit to fathers. 

5) Pregnancy alone is not a disability under the ADA but pregnancy-related impairments are disabilities if they substantially limit one or more major life activities or did so in the past. Therefore, if a pregnant woman experiences difficulty walking or pregnancy-related carpel tunnel syndrome, employers may need to consider providing the pregnant employee with a reasonable accommodation unless doing so would create an undue hardship. The EEOC suggests that some reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees may include the redistribution of marginal, non-essential functions, modification of work schedules, and modifying workplace policies to allow pregnant workers to take more frequent breaks.

Note that much of what the EEOC states is just guidance. While the guidance is instructive and employers should look to it when making decisions, court decisions over the next few years interpreting laws governing pregnancy discrimination could deem this guidance moot.

Topics:  ADA, EEOC, Employee Rights, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Discrimination

Published In: Civil Rights Updates, Labor & Employment Updates

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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