Good News for Pregnant Women in the Workplace
The Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC) issued a new enforcement guidance for the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) this year. The new guidance incorporates the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), broadens the definition of protected pregnancy-related conditions, and adds light duty obligations within the PDA. This is a victory for all working women across the United States!
In 1978 Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was amended “to prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.” This amendment is known as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. It defines discrimination against pregnant women as illegal sex discrimination.
Since the PDA’s inclusion in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the EEOC has seen a substantial rise in pregnancy discrimination claims. According to the EEOC’s website, in 1997 there were 3,900 pregnancy discrimination charges; by 2013 that number had grown to 5,342.
The increase in pregnancy discrimination charges led the EEOC to issue a new enforcement guidance this year, which updates the interpretation of the PDA laws. The last enforcement guidance was issued almost thirty years ago.
Under the new enforcement guidance, the EEOC states the fundamental PDA requirements as follows:
- An employer may not discriminate against an employee on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions;
- Women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions must be treated the same as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.
The overall definition of pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions has broadened since the last enforcement guidance for the PDA set forth in 1983. Topics included in this definition are conception, pregnancy, termination, childbirth, and post-birth. The EEOC has tried to encompass all of the circumstances that relate to pregnancy.
This new enforcement guidance also incorporates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The old enforcement guidance predated enactment of the ADA by 7 years. The incorporation of the ADA in the new enforcement guidance provides that conditions caused by pregnancy are to be considered temporary disabilities, and therefore covered under the ADA. This ensures that pregnant employees are recognized and protected by this law.
Light Duty requirements have also been added to the new enforcement guidance. Prior to this year, the EEOC had not clarified whether employers were required to give light duty tasks, typically issued to injured workers, to their pregnant employees under work restrictions. The new guidance spells out that if light duty is made available to a worker injured on the job, then the same light duty work needs to be available to women under work restrictions due from their pregnancy. Employers may not make biased decisions on whether pregnant women deserve treatment equal to their injured peers.
The EEOC incorporates the Affordable Care Act (ACA) within the new enforcement guidance. Under the ACA, employers are generally required to supply coverage for FDA-approved contraceptive devices, so long as they do not qualify for an exemption available to a few employers based on their religious convictions. Under the new enforcement guidance, if an employer fails to cover these contraceptive devices, they are not only violating the ACA but they are also violating the PDA as well. Therefore, employers are potentially answerable to both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the EEOC if they violate this portion of the law.
This is very good news for working women across the country. It is another step towards ensuring gender equality in the workplace. It is one small step for equality, and one giant leap for all womankind! To read the entire enforcement guidance click here.