On July 14, 2014, the EEOC issued updated enforcement guidance on pregnancy discrimination and related issues. This was the first major update of the EEOC’s guidance since 1983. The newly-issued guidance contains an expanded interpretation of pregnancy discrimination and redefines the circumstances in which an employer is required to accommodate pregnancy restrictions.
The guidance specifically requires employers to offer reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers and clarifies that pregnancy-related conditions are most likely covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). If a woman is temporarily restricted from performing certain job functions as a result of a routine pregnancy, the guidance suggests that employers must provide a reasonable accommodation to the employee. Thus, employers must treat pregnant employees with work restrictions as if they are disabled under the ADA. The EEOC’s position is that employers must accommodate a pregnant employee’s work restrictions to the same extent it accommodates non-pregnant employees with similar restrictions.
The guidance also states that pregnancy-related conditions, such as preeclampsia or lactation, may be considered a disability under the ADA, again requiring a reasonable accommodation. Under the guidance, a pregnant worker can establish a violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) by showing that she was denied light duty work or other accommodations given to other employees who were similarly unable to work.
This updated guidance is particularly interesting given that many courts have held that temporary restrictions resulting from a routine pregnancy are not covered under the ADA. While the EEOC’s guidance is not binding on the courts, employers need to be aware of it because the courts may defer to the guidance as persuasive. The EEOC also has made pregnancy discrimination one of its top five enforcement priorities. The guidance may be used by EEOC investigators when investigating pregnancy-related charges.
There is potential for change in this area, however, in the not too distant future. The Supreme Court is set to hear the case of Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. during its next term, and will address the issue of what reasonable accommodations must be provided, if any, to pregnant employees pursuant to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. For now, employers are advised to review their policies and consult with legal counsel to ensure that policies relating to leave, light duty, and other accommodations are compliant.Back to news