Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Issues Updated Guidance

On July 14, 2014, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued new enforcement guidance on pregnancy discrimination, the first comprehensive update on the subject since the 1983 publication of a chapter on the subject in the Compliance Manual.

The new guidance sets out the fundamental Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) protections: that employers are prohibited from discriminating 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 similarly situated persons. The new EEOC guidance states that PDA coverage extends beyond those women currently pregnant, and encompasses discrimination based on past pregnancy and a woman’s potential to become pregnant.

Additionally, the EEOC stated its position that the definition of “disability” in the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) may apply to workers with impairments related to pregnancy. As a result, pregnant workers, whether suffering from a pregnancy related impairment or not, may be entitled to reasonable accommodation measures under the PDA. For example, the EEOC listed “light-lifting restrictions” as a reasonable accommodation to which a pregnant worker may be entitled, even if she is not otherwise deemed disabled under the ADA.

Other issues the guidance addresses are: lactation as a covered pregnancy-related medical condition; the requirement that parental leave be provided to similarly situated men and women on the same terms; leave for pregnancy and medical conditions related to pregnancy; and best practices for employers to avoid unlawful discrimination against pregnant workers.