EEOC issues new pregnancy discrimination guidelines

The EEOC recently announced new guidelines governing pregnancy discrimination.

For the first time in about 30 years, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has released updated guidelines for employers regarding pregnancy discrimination.

Pregnancy discrimination is a form of sex discrimination. Currently, pregnant workers are protected from discrimination by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. Under the law, employers may not treat pregnant workers any differently from other workers.

The law does not require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers, however - something many pregnant women need to safely carry their pregnancy to term.

The EEOC guidelines were issued in response to increasing numbers of pregnancy discrimination complaints in the United States each year. According to the EEOC, over 5,340 pregnancy discrimination complaints were lodged in 2013 - compared to just over 3,900 in 1997.

The guidelines indicate that employers should treat pregnant workers the same as workers who are not pregnant but have similar abilities or inabilities to perform their duties. In other words, pregnant workers are protected by the 2008 amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which provides protection to those whose medical conditions are temporary.

U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear pregnancy discrimination case

The EEOC guidelines were released shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would take up a pregnancy discrimination case during its upcoming term.

The case - Young v. United Parcel Service - arose when a pregnant woman asked for light duty work during her pregnancy, while employed at UPS. Rather than accommodating her request, UPS instructed her to go on an unpaid leave of absence. UPS contends its policies covering light duty work are "pregnancy blind."

The court will now consider whether employers who provide reasonable accommodations to those who are not pregnant but have work restrictions must also provide accommodations to pregnant workers.

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

Meanwhile, Congress has taken up the issue by considering the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The proposed legislation states that employers must provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers, so long as the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship on the business.

The bill has yet to be passed by either house of Congress.

When an employer discriminates against an employee because she is pregnant, the employer should be held accountable. If you or a loved one has faced discrimination on account of a pregnancy, take the time to consult with a knowledgeable employment law attorney, who will work to be sure your rights are safeguarded.

Keywords: pregnancy discrimination, EEOC, U.S. Supreme Court