Last month, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a much-anticipated update to its policy with the Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Other Issues. As the EEOC reports, it is the first comprehensive update on pregnancy discrimination that the agency has issued since 1983. The EEOC issues Guidances to inform the public and employers about the agency’s position on workplace issues such as discrimination. These Guidances often provide suggestions for best practices in the workplace and discuss recent cases involving the EEOC.

In the new Guidance, the EEOC discusses employers’ obligations under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). In essence, the EEOC sets forth that the PDA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of pregnancy or childbirth and must treat pregnant employees the same as other employees who are similarly situated in their ability to work.

For example, if the employer provides light duty accommodations to an employee with a disability, the employer must also provide light duty to pregnant women who request it due to pregnancy conditions. Light duty generally refers to work that is less physically or mentally challenging than normal duties.

Light duty is often discussed in the context of workers with a disability. While pregnancy is not a recognized disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), the EEOC Guidance makes it clear that the agency’s position is that pregnancy-related conditions should be recognized under the law as protected against discrimination.

The EEOC Guidance also discussed several other issues pertinent to pregnant employees in the workplace:

The Guidance was issued right around the same time that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case next term on light duty and allegations of pregnancy discrimination. In Young v. UPS, Ms. Young was a truck driver for UPS who was refused light duty work assignments during her pregnancy even though the company provides light duty for individuals with disabilities under the ADAAA. Employers and attorneys will be anticipating the outcome of the Young case to see if it will differ from the EEOC Guidance. EEOC Guidances are not binding law, although courts do look to them in determining how to apply the law.

The EEOC reports that it received 3,541 formal complaints of pregnancy discrimination in 2013.

In light of the EEOC’s new Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Other Issues, employers may wish to review their policies, handbooks and other documents to determine whether they need to update those materials. Employers may also want to review employee training materials with regard to anti-discrimination policies against pregnant employees.

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