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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Clarifies the Law on Pregnancy Discrimination

As reported by the Washington Post:

For the first time in more than 30 years, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued new guidelines to make clear to employers that refusing to give reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers is illegal under federal law.

The Post correctly notes that the current patchwork of federal laws regarding pregnancy discrimination can be extremely confusing. For starters, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended the Civil Rights Act to add discrimination based on pregnancy to the already-prohibited workplace discrimination based on sex. In essence, the PDA makes clear that no employer can take adverse action against an employee based solely on her status as to pregnancy.

This, though, leads to a whole host of complications, and that is in part what the EEOC hopes to remedy with their latest guidelines. For example, what if a pregnancy causes a worker to be unable to perform her job to the fullest extent? Would the employer be discriminating against this worker by reassigning her, or not offering the requisite "reasonable accomodations"? Is this what we mean by "pregnancy discrimination"?

Part of the confusion stems from the fact that "pregnancy," as a singular condition, is not a disability within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The reasons for this are somewhat technical, but its effect is to deprive pregnant women, who may legitimately have a temporary inability to perform certain functions of their jobs of the protections afforded by law to the permanently disabled.

The EEOC's solution, as expressed in the new guidelines, is to specify that while pregnancy itself is not a disability, certain conditions naturally arising from it may be. The guidelines are written interestingly, listing various conditions relating to both complications in pregnancy, and naturally arising from pregnancy itself. In other words, workers need not be having an abnormal pregnancy to be covered by federal laws against pregnancy discrimination.

Remember, if you are suffering from a pregnancy-related condition, your employer may be required to provide you with what are called reasonable accommodations - certain changes to work environment or schedule that allow you to perform your job adequately. The Serrins Fisher Blog previously discussed the issue of reasonable accommodations here.

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