EEOC issues new guidelines for pregnancy discrimination

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced new guidelines for avoiding pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

Recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued new best practices for businesses to ensure they do not discriminate against a worker on the basis of pregnancy.

One of the most important changes is the stance taken on light duty positions. The EEOC is now recommending that businesses take a look at their light duty policies to make sure they are giving pregnant workers the same access to light duty work as other workers with similar limitations.

This change was largely made in response to a recent case before the U.S. Supreme Court. In Young v. UPS, the high court heard a case in which a UPS worker was denied a light duty job during her pregnancy. As the worker had lifting restrictions, she was required to take a significant amount of time off work without pay, which eventually led to her losing her medical benefits.

The court held that workers in such situations can use the McDonnell Douglas test to determine whether discrimination occurred. In other words, the worker must show:

  • She was pregnant.
  • She asked her employer for an accommodation.
  • The employer did not grant the accommodation.
  • The employer granted accommodations to other workers who were "similar in their ability or inability to work."

The employer then has an opportunity to support its behavior by showing it had a "legitimate, non-discriminatory" reason for failing to provide an accommodation to the worker.

In response, the EEOC guidelines now indicate that if an employer routinely gives light duty to work to a "large percentage" of non-pregnant workers, but does not provide the same to a "large percentage" of pregnant workers, the employer's light duty policy may be called into question.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act

On a federal level, pregnant workers are currently protected by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The act provides that workers may not be discriminated against "on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions." It requires employers to treat pregnant workers the same as other workers "who are similar in their ability or inability to work."

Notably, the act does not require employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers, which can create some difficulty for them. Consequently, a bill referred to as the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was introduced in Congress in 2013 and has repeatedly been brought up for discussion thereafter. The bill would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers unless the employer could show it would create an "undue hardship" on the operation of the business. The bill has not yet been passed into law.

Talk to an attorney

If you believe you have been the subject of pregnancy discrimination, you need to take action to protect yourself. You should not suffer because of your employer's improper behavior.

In such cases, you should consult with a skilled employment attorney. A legal professional will work with you to make certain you are being treated fairly at your workplace.