For the first time since 1983, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has issued guidance on the interpretation and enforcement of federal laws that prohibit pregnancy discrimination. The guidance document focuses on the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Background on the Pregnancy Discrimination Act

In 1978, Congress amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on “the whole range of matters concerning the childbearing process…” Like other claims available to employees under Title VII, employees may file complaints based on “disparate treatment” or “disparate impact.” In other words, employer actions motivated in whole or in part by an employee’s pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition will violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act as will “neutral” employment policies adversely affecting employees based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.

Background on Pregnancy and the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Disabilities are impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities, a record of such impairment or being regarded as having a disability. Prior to the 2008 amendments to the ADA, many courts held that pregnancy-related medical conditions did not meet the definition of “disability” under the ADA. The EEOC has noted federal regulations that allow conditions lasting less than 6 months to be “disabilities.” Accordingly, pregnancy-related medical conditions can meet the definition of disability and extend coverage of the ADA to affected employees.

Workplace Accommodations May Be Appropriate for Pregnant Women

The recent pregnancy discrimination guidance issued by the EEOC presents a scenario in which employees affected by pregnancy-related conditions may need an accommodation from their employer. The agency opined the following accommodations may be appropriate for employees affected by such conditions:

· Redistributing marginal functions the employee is unable to perform due to the disability;
· Altering how an essential or marginal job function is performed;
· Modification of workplace policies;
· Purchasing or modifying equipment or devices;
· Modified work schedules;
· Granting leave; and
· Temporary assignment to a light duty position

The EEOC also discussed light-duty assignments in the context of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Employers have expressed concern about whether the agency is impermissibly requiring accommodations for pregnant employees who do not exhibit pregnancy-related conditions that would otherwise afford them protections and accommodation rights under the ADA. In fact, the agency is simply restating that pregnant employees may be entitled to light duty assignments if such assignments are offered to other workers “similar in their ability or inability to work…”

Hawks Quindel’s employment attorneys are able to assist employees with any workplace issues arising out of an employee’s pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.

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Nicholas Fairweather