July 16, 2014 — The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Monday released new enforcement guidelines reminding employers that they are prohibited from discriminating against workers based on past, future or current pregnancies, the New York Times' "Business Day" reports.
The document is EEOC's first enforcement guidance on the issue since 1983. EEOC officials said the guidelines were developed in response to an increasing number of pregnancy discrimination complaints. A large percentage of the complaints were decided against employers, suggesting that businesses are in need of clarification on the issue (Greenhouse, "Business Day," New York Times, 7/14).
Overall, pregnancy-related complaints to EEOC increased by 46% from 1997 through 2011, according to the agency's most recent data (Raum, AP/Spokane Spokesman-Review, 7/16).
The new guidance aims to detail employers' responsibilities under the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PL 95-555), the Times reports.
EEOC states in the guidelines that discrimination "based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions is a prohibited form of sex discrimination" and that employers cannot "fire, refuse to hire, demote or take any other adverse action if pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition is 'a motivating factor.'"
While the guidelines do not define pregnancy as a disability, they note that employees' pregnancy-related impairments can be treated as disabilities if they substantially limit a major life activity, such as lifting, standing or walking.
Further, the guidelines state that employers cannot treat pregnant workers differently than other employees based on their ability or inability to work because of such limitations. For example, the guidelines define lactation as a "pregnancy-related medical condition" that employers must allow workers to address, as they do for workers with similarly limiting conditions.
The guidelines also state that employers are prohibited from treating women differently based on their fertility or childbearing capacity; that they cannot deny job opportunities to women with young children if they would not also deny the positions to men with young children; and that they are barred from discriminating against women who say that they plan to become pregnant. Employers also are prohibited from forcing women to take leave as long as they can perform their jobs and from reassigning women to less-desirable work out of a concern that they will be less committed to their job after maternity leave.
In addition, the guidelines affirm that employer-sponsored health plans must apply the same terms and conditions to pregnancy-related costs as other medical costs (Greenhouse, "Business Day," New York Times, 7/14).
Joan Williams, a law professor at the University of California's Hastings College of Law whose research is cited in the EEOC report, said the main impact of the new regulations will be providing clearer guideposts for EEOC investigators and giving employment lawyers better ways to argue clients' discrimination claims (Raum, AP/Washington Times, 7/16).
Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, called the new guidelines "a powerful tool in the effort to eradicate the unlawful and unequal treatment of pregnant women in the workplace" (AP/Spokane Spokesman-Review, 7/16).