Have you reviewed your company’s polices on accommodating workers who become pregnant or have a related medical condition? Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits a covered employer (15 or more employees) from discriminating against any individual with respect to the terms, conditions or privileges of employment based on the employee’s sex. Congress than added the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) which clarifies Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination to include discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. In addition, the act requires that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition be treated the same for all employment-related purposes as “other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.”
Possible violations of the PDA came to light when a case was brought to the U.S. Supreme Court involving a part-time driver for UPS who became pregnant and was unable to carry out all the duties of her job due to her pregnancy. When she provided UPS with a doctor’s note indicating she had restrictions on how much she could lift, she was told by UPS she could not work while under these lifting restrictions. On March 25, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the employee at UPS who was faced with the choice to either continue working her labor-intensive job during pregnancy or take unpaid leave.
This decision definitely “opens the door” for pregnant workers since it establishes guidelines to prove illegal discrimination. In addition, in 2008 Congress did expand the definition of “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to clarify that physical or mental impairments that can limit an individual’s ability to lift, stand or bend are covered under the ADA.
With these new rulings, employers should review their employment practices and policies regarding accommodations to make sure pregnant workers are treated the same as other workers with similar restrictions. Employers can refer to the enforcement guidelines issued by the EEOC in July 2014. According to these guidelines, if an employer provides light-duty assignments to any of its employees who are temporarily unable to perform their full duties, then similar accommodations should be made for pregnant employees unable to perform their full duties.