EEOC Issues New Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination

On July 14, 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC” or “Commission”) issued an Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination. This updates prior EEOC Guidance regarding the numerous legal developments over the past 30 years with respect to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

Background

An amendment of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the PDA provides that discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition is a prohibited form of sex discrimination. Title I of the ADA protects individuals from employment discrimination on the basis of disability, limits when and how an employer may make medical inquiries or require medical examinations of employees, and requires that an employer provide reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability. The Guidance addresses the impact of the ADA’s expanded definition of “disability” on employees with pregnancy-related conditions and describes specific accommodations that may assist pregnant workers.

According to the EEOC Office of General Counsel, federal, state and local charges alleging pregnancy discrimination have steadily increased in the years since the PDA was enacted – more than 3,900 in 1997 to 5,342 in 2013 – an overall increase of approximately 37%. The Guidance explains that the majority of the charges include allegations of discharge based on pregnancy. Other charges include allegations of disparate treatment based on pregnancy.

The issue of pregnancy discrimination is particularly relevant in light of a case that the United States Supreme Court has agreed to consider, Peggy Young v. United Parcel Service. This case involves a pregnant employee who was denied light-duty work and terminated when her doctor gave her lifting restrictions because of her pregnancy. At this time it is not clear what impact, if any, the Supreme Court’s decision will have on the EEOC’s current guidelines.

Key Points

Among other issues, the Guidance provides insight on the following issues:

  • The PDA covers not only discrimination based on current pregnancy, but also past pregnancy and a woman’s potential to become pregnant
  • Lactation as a covered pregnancy-related medical condition
  • Employers must provide equal access to benefits, such as light-duty and leave, to employees having a pregnancy-related condition in the same manner as accorded to non-pregnant employees
  • Pregnancy itself is not an impairment within the meaning of the ADA, as amended, but pregnancy-related impairments may be “disabilities” under that Act

The Guidance further describes the types of reasonable accommodations that may be necessary for a disability caused by a pregnancy, such as:

  • More frequent rest breaks to alleviate fatigue
  • Redistribution of marginal functions – marginal functions are non-essential job duties
  • Altering how job functions are performed (e.g., modifying standing, climbing, lifting or bending requirements)
  • Modified work schedules
  • Granting leave in addition to what an employer would normally provide under a sick leave policy for reasons related to the pregnancy disability

What Employers Can Do

The Guidance sets forth suggestions for best practices that employers may adopt to reduce the chance of pregnancy-related PDA and ADA violations. In general, employers are advised to:

  • Develop, disseminate and enforce a strong policy based on the requirements of the PDA and the ADA, as well as state and local laws
  • Regularly train managers and employees about their rights and responsibilities related to pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions
  • Refrain from asking questions about an applicant or employee’s pregnancy status, children, plans to start a family or other related issues during interviews or performance reviews
  • Have a process in place for expeditiously considering reasonable accommodation requests made by employees with pregnancy-related disabilities, and for granting accommodations where appropriate

For More Information

If you have any questions regarding this Client Alert, please contact Lisa M. Scidurlo at 610.205.6042 or the Stevens & Lee attorney with whom you normally consult for labor and employment matters.

This News Alert has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be construed as, and does not constitute, legal advice on any specific matter. For more information, please see the disclaimer.

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