On July 14, 2014, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) published new enforcement guidance regarding the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) as applied to pregnant employees. The new guidance is the EEOC’s first update to its guidelines on pregnancy discrimination in 30 years. The enforcement guidance states that in 2013, there were 5,342 EEOC Charges alleging pregnancy discrimination. The newly-issued guidelines are intended to combat “the persistence of overt pregnancy discrimination, as well as . . . more subtle discriminatory practices,” according to EEOC Chairwoman Jacqueline A. Berrien.
Discrimination based on an employee’s current pregnancy, past pregnancy, potential or intended pregnancy, and/or pregnancy-related medical conditions is prohibited by Title VII, as amended by the PDA. The new guidelines detail how the PDA and the ADA should be applied to pregnant employees, specifying that reasonable accommodations (including providing light-duty work or additional bathroom breaks) must be given to pregnant employees under the ADA. The guidelines also prohibit employers from requiring a pregnant employee to take leave in situations where she is able to continue performing her job. Rather, an employer must treat pregnant employees the same as other employees with similar abilities or inabilities to work.
The EEOC’s new guidelines also address issues that may arise after an employee gives birth, such as requiring employers who offer parental leave to provide it to their similarly-situated male and female employees equally. Although leave related to pregnancy or childbirth (“pregnancy-related medical leave”) may be limited to women, “parental leave” (defined as leave for the purposes of bonding with a child or providing care for a child) must be provided to male and female employees on the same terms. The guidelines also clarify that lactation is considered a pregnancy-related medical condition that is protected by law, such that employers must respond to an employee’s needs related to lactation as they would to other similarly limiting medical conditions.
Employers should review their ADA and parental leave policies in light of the new guidance. The new enforcement guidance from the EEOC may be found here. If you have any questions about these issues, please contact your Employment counsel at Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP.