EEOC Improves Protections for Pregnant Workers

West Hawaii Today reports that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) increased protections for pregnant workers and for new mothers earlier this month. This expansion of the law is a huge victory for all parents, as well as anyone who cares about employment discrimination or civil rights.

Update to Laws Protecting Pregnant Workers Against Discrimination

According to the West Hawaii Today report, this is the first time the EEOC has updated the guidelines regarding pregnant women in three decades. The new version clarifies that any form of discrimination against or harassment of pregnant workers by employers in the workplace is a form of sex discrimination and is illegal. EEOC Chairwoman Jacqueline A. Berrien said in a statement that while progress has been made in the last three decades, both overt and more subtle pregnancy discrimination is still a real problem. There was a 46% increase in pregnancy-related complaints to the EEOC between 1997 and 2011. Of course some of this increase comes from more women learning what their rights are, but the substantial increase also shows that the problem is not going away.

Under the guidelines, employers cannot force pregnant workers to take leave, and may have to provide light duty for pregnant workers. Additionally, lactation will now be covered as a pregnancy-related medical condition for pregnancy discrimination purposes. For the first time ever, the EEOC also explained how pregnant women may be covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act, an interpretation that will substantially expand protections for women in physically demanding jobs. Men will also benefit, because the new guidelines say that when it comes to parental leave, similarly situated men and women must be treated on the same terms.

Real Stories of Pregnancy Discrimination

The EEOC’s report includes real life examples of women who have been harmed by pregnancy discrimination. One such woman, Maria, told her supervisor that she was pregnant. Three months later, she was absent due to an unrelated illness. When she came back to work she was fired, and her boss told her that “her body was trying to tell her something.” Another woman, Teresa, received outstanding performance reviews for eight years. But shortly after she informed her supervisor about her pregnancy, she was fired because of “performance problems.”

Businessweek also reported on the changes. Their report noted that some of the work done by the EEOC to protect pregnant women may soon be undone by the United States Supreme Court. The high court has agreed to hear the case of Peggy Young v. United Parcel Service. In that case, Ms. Young argues that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act required UPS to provide her with the light duty recommended by her doctor, just like UPS would accommodate workers with other medical conditions. UPS disagrees, arguing that the company should not have to provide such duties. This case started its way through the courts, and was accepted by the Supreme Court, before the EEOC created these new guidelines. It is still unclear what effect, if any, the new guidelines will have on the legislation. However, UPS acknowledges its responsibilities to disabled workers under the Americans With Disabilities Act, so if that act is held to apply to pregnant women, the outcome could be in Ms. Young’s favor.

No one should have to face discrimination in the workplace for whatever reason. If you have been the victim of any of these unfair practices, let the attorneys at Davis Levin Livingston assist you today in recovering the compensation that you deserve.

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