Employers should be aware of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which makes it illegal to discriminate against an employee or job applicant based on pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition. However, some issues under the PDA were unclear and confusing for employers.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released an Enforcement Guidance to clarify these issues:
- The extension of PDA protection to employees who are not currently pregnant but intend to become pregnant. For example, demotion based on an employee’s expressed intention to become pregnant is pregnancy discrimination.
- Employees or applicants are protected against pregnancy discrimination based on past pregnancies. Terminating an employee after returning from a pregnancy leave, when the pregnancy is the reason for termination is illegal. Termination of a worker within close proximity of returning to work in combination with a reason that is not credible can provide grounds for employees to bring pregnancy discrimination lawsuits.
- Medical conditions related to pregnancy were clarified. Examples given of pregnancy related medical conditions were back pain, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, complications requiring bed rest and after-effects of a delivery.
The Guidance recommends that if a pregnant worker needs to do light work, the employer is required under the PDA to provide it, in the same way employers would for any other worker who requires lighter work duties temporarily because of a medical condition.
Even so, this issue involving lighter work still awaits judicial ruling. In the case Young v. United Parcel Service Inc. in July 2014, an employee sued for pregnancy discrimination when UPS would not allow her to do lighter work after a doctor ordered it. The judge at the federal appeals level ruled against her. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear her appeal and how it will rule remains to be seen.
If you have questions about dealing with pregnant employees, consult with an experienced employment defense law attorney. At Stephen Hans & Associates our attorneys focus our practice on employment law and can provide legal advice, assistance with employment policies and representation for business owners in cases involving disputed employment or labor law issues.