Rights of Pregnant Workers Clarified by the EEOC

In an effort to emphasize the fact that employers are legally prohibited from discriminating against workers because of past, present, or future pregnancies, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently introduced new enforcement guidelines on pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. This is the first time the guidelines have been updated since 1983.

Prompted by an increase in the filing of pregnancy discrimination complaints over the last decade, and the correspondingly high number of legal defeats dealt to employer defendants, the EEOC developed the new guidelines to provide clarification about the applicable rules pertaining to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Some notable clarifications include:

  • Employers are prohibited from firing, refusing to hire, demoting, or instituting any other disciplinary action if pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition is “a motivating factor.”
  • Medical conditions related to pregnancy include back pain, gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, complications requiring bed rest and the after-effects of a delivery.
  • Employers cannot discriminate against an employee who states her wishes to become pregnant.
  • Federal law prohibits an employer — concerned about employees’ caregiving responsibilities — from denying job opportunities to women, but not men, with young children.
  • The reassignment of a woman who has recently returned from maternity leave to less desirable work based on the assumption that she, as a new mother, would be less committed to her job, constitutes illegal discrimination.
  • While pregnancy in itself is not a disability, employees can have a pregnancy-related impairment that in certain circumstances can constitute a disability. Specifically, under federal law, employers must make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees.  Reasonable accommodations may include reassigning a worker to light duty or modifying a work schedule for a pregnant worker. Example:  An employer may allow a worker who experiences severe morning sickness to start the workday later than her usual and leave later to make up the lost time. The EEOC further clarified that major life activities that may be affected by pregnancy-related impairments include walking, standing and lifting.

Essentially, all women who become pregnant are afforded protections against discrimination. Pregnancy is not a legal basis for employee discrimination. If you or a loved one have been the victim of pregnancy-related discrimination in the workplace, contact a skilled New York employment law attorney to help you defend your rights.



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