The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has had a fairly steadfast tact when it comes to enforcement of its rules; however, on July 15, the commission made the first update to its policies in 30 years, expanding employment protection to expectant mothers. The new guidelines make it clear that the EEOC expects employers to accommodate pregnant women, and that refusing to do so is a violation of federal law.
The new rules are the first changes the commission has made to its policies since 1983, when an update offering guidance on pregnant worker discrimination was published. The new rules will supersede the previous update and offer more explicit rules on how employers will need to accommodate workers.
The new guidelines will cover pregnancy-related issues under the American with Disabilities Act, clarifying a number of conflicting federal regulations and case laws. Previously, pregnant women had been protected under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, but the law had been implemented in varying ways, and had been successfully rebuffed in several lower court decisions.
The update was passed after a 3 to 2 vote by the members of the commission.
"Pregnancy is not a justification for excluding women from jobs that they are qualified to perform, and it cannot be a basis for denying employment or treating women less favorably than co-workers similar in their ability or inability to work," said EEOC chair Jacqueline A. Berrien. "Despite much progress, we continue to see a significant number of charges alleging pregnancy discrimination…This guidance will aid employers, job seekers, and workers in complying with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, and thus advance EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan.”
In a dissenting opinion, Commissioner Victoria A. Lipnic said, “the (Pregnancy) Guidance takes the novel position that under the language of the PDA, a pregnant worker is, as a practical matter, entitled to “reasonable accommodation” as that term is defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). No federal Court of Appeals has adopted this position; indeed, those which have addressed the question have rejected it.“
Among a number of other clarifications the new guidelines address, discrimination based on previous pregnancies, issues related to pregnancy leave, accommodations for lactation, as well as a list of best practices that help employers avoid unlawful discrimination against pregnant women.