Pregnant Workers Entitled to Reasonable Accommodation

The EEOC has issued an enforcement guidance that makes it clear that an employer must make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers who experience a medical need for a temporary change at work.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) states that an employer may not discriminate against an employee on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.  However, many employers took the position that it did not require them to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. For example, if a pregnant worker’s job required her to stand for long periods, the employer would fire the worker if she was temporarily unable to do so rather than provide her with a chair.

Pregnant workers were treated like second-class citizens compared to workers who were injured or disabled. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) clearly states that employers must make reasonable accommodations for individuals who are injured or  disabled.

The EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues makes it clear that the PDA, ADA , and other federal laws collectively require employers to treat pregnant workers the same as other persons in their ability or inability to work.

Emily Martin, Vice President and General Counsel of the National Women’s Law Center, said the EEOC guidance is a “wake up call to employers who force pregnant workers off the job: you are violating the law.” Martin said that pregnant women who experience a medical need for a temporary change at work were often ” forced to choose between risking their own health and pregnancy to keep their jobs or losing their income at the moment their families can least afford it.”

The guidance discusses other hot button  including the following:

  • The PDA covers not only current pregnancy, but discrimination based on past pregnancy and a woman’s potential to become pregnant;
  •  Lactation is a pregnancy-related medical condition and less favorable treatment of a lactating employee may raise an inference of unlawful discrimination;
  •  An employer may have to provide light duty for pregnant workers;
  •  The PDA prohibits an employer from requiring pregnant workers who are able to do their jobs to take leave;
  • Parental leave (which is distinct from medical leave associated with childbearing or recovering from childbirth) must be provided to similarly situated men and women on the same terms;

Since the PDA was enacted, the number of charges filed with the EEOC alleging pregnancy discrimination has increased substantially. In 1997, more than 3,900 such charges were filed with the EEOC and state and local Fair Employment Practices Agencies; in 2013, a total of  5,342 charges were filed.

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