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EEOC issues updated guidance on pregnancy discrimination

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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued updated Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues, the first comprehensive update of the EEOC guidance on the subject of discrimination against pregnant workers since 1983.

The EEOC – which enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination – also issued a question and answer document about the updated guidance and a Fact Sheet for Small Businesses that will be available on the EEOC website along with the guidance.

Pregnancy is not a justification for excluding women from jobs that they are qualified to perform, and it cannot be a basis for denying employment or treating women less favorably than co-workers similar in their ability or inability to work,” EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien stated in a press release about the updated guidance.

The updated EEOC guidance addresses the fundamental requirements of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) that an employer may not discriminate against an employee on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, and that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions must be treated the same as other persons similar in their ability or inability to work.

The guidance also discusses the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as amended in 2008, to individuals who have pregnancy-related disabilities and explains how the ADA definition of “disability” might apply to workers with impairments related to pregnancy. The guidance also discusses:

  • The fact that the PDA covers not only current pregnancy, but discrimination based on past pregnancy and a woman's potential to become pregnant;
  • Lactation as a covered pregnancy-related medical condition;
  • The circumstances under which employers may have to provide light duty for pregnant workers;
  • Issues related to leave for pregnancy and for medical conditions related to pregnancy;
  • The PDA prohibition against requiring pregnant workers who are able to do their jobs to take leave;
  • The requirement that parental leave (which is distinct from medical leave associated with childbearing or recovering from childbirth) be provided to similarly situated men and women on the same terms;
  • When employers may have to provide reasonable accommodations for workers with pregnancy-related impairments under the ADA and the types of accommodations that may be necessary; and
  • Best practices for employers to avoid unlawful discrimination against pregnant workers.

The updated guidance supersedes the 1983 publication of a Compliance Manual chapter on the subject and incorporates significant developments in the law during the past 30 years.

“Despite much progress, we continue to see a significant number of charges alleging pregnancy discrimination, and our investigations have revealed the persistence of overt pregnancy discrimination, as well as the emergence of more subtle discriminatory practices,” EEOC Chair Berrien stated. “This guidance will aid employers, job seekers, and workers in complying with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.”

The complete text of the EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues is available at http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/pregnancy_guidance.cfm.

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