A lot has changed for pregnant women in the workforce since the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was passed over 35 years ago. More women are working during pregnancy, and into later stages of pregnancy. And formal policies that purport to prohibit pregnant women from working outright have largely disappeared.
But unfortunately that doesn’t mean that we have seen the end of unfair treatment of pregnant workers. Workers continue to be forced out of their jobs because of pregnancy. In particular, they are often denied temporary job adjustments for which they have a medical need during pregnancy – even when their employers will honor the needs of employees who have non-pregnancy-related disabilities or injuries. As a result, pregnant workers are too often forced into an untenable choice between risking their health and their pregnancy or losing their income at precisely the moment their families can least afford it.
Yesterday the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sent a strong message to employers that treat pregnant workers like second-class citizens in this way: you are breaking the law.
For the first time since 1983, the EEOC released new, comprehensive enforcement guidance on pregnancy discrimination, covering a range of critical issues about the legal protections that are available to pregnant workers. In addition to outlining the PDA’s requirement that pregnant workers must have equal access to reasonable workplace accommodations and other benefits, for example, the guidance also discusses when a worker experiencing a medical condition related to pregnancy may be entitled to an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act [PDF].
In the past, too many courts have ignored the mandate of the PDA and allowed employers to get away with denying to pregnant workers who need them accommodations that are routinely provided to others with similar limitations. The new enforcement guidance makes it clear to employers and courts that this sort of discriminatory treatment of pregnant workers cannot stand.