EEOC Issues Controversial Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued updated Enforcement Guidance on pregnancy discrimination on July 14, 2014, over the objection of two of the Commissioners.  Along with the updated Guidance, the EEOC also issued a Q&A and a Fact Sheet for employers.  Together, these documents confirm the EEOC’s broad interpretation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) and coverage of pregnancy under the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”).  The following are some of the key points contained in the Enforcement Guidance:

  1. The PDA protects workers from discrimination based on a current pregnancy, a past pregnancy, and an intention to become pregnant.
  2. Lactation or breastfeeding is a pregnancy-related medical condition and is thus covered by the PDA.
  3. An employer is required to treat a worker temporarily unable to perform the functions of her job because of a pregnancy-related condition in the same manner it treats other workers similar in their ability or inability to work, whether by providing modified tasks, alternative assignments, or fringe benefits such as disability leave and leave without pay.
  4. Employers are required by the PDA to offer light duty assignments to pregnant workers if light duty assignments are provided to non-pregnant workers who have similar work restrictions.
  5. An employer may not refuse to treat a pregnant worker the same as other workers who are similar in their ability or inability to work by relying on a policy that makes distinctions based on the source of a worker’s limitations (e.g., a policy of providing light duty only to workers injured on the job).
  6. An employer may not compel a worker to take leave because she is pregnant, as long as she is able to perform her job.
  7. As with other fringe benefits, employers who offer health insurance must include coverage of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.
  8. Parental leave (as opposed to leave to recover from pregnancy/childbirth) must be offered on the same basis to both male and female workers.
  9. Pregnancy-related impairments may be disabilities within the meaning of the ADA, and thus must be reasonably accommodated.
  10. Hostile work environment claims may be based on pregnancy

Interestingly, the United States Supreme Court has also signaled its intent to weigh in on the interpretation of the PDA in the next term.  On July 1, 2014, the Court agreed to hear the case of Young v. UPS. The issue in Young is whether an employer must provide accommodations to pregnant employees with work restrictions on the same basis that it provides accommodations to non-pregnant employees with similar work restrictions, e.g., light duty assignments without regard to the source of the work restriction.