Contributed by Karuna Brunk
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate have introduced bills to add workplace protections for pregnant women. The bills are modeled on the Americans with Disabilities Act, which offers certain accommodation protections for employees with disabilities.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, already protects pregnant women from employers discriminating against them through hiring, firing, pay, and job assignments. Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act currently entitles pregnant women to some accommodations based on certain pregnancy-related impairments.
Despite these existing protections, sponsors of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act argue that the new law would close legal loopholes for pregnant women. The law would specifically require employers to offer reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. For example, employers may be required to offer seats for pregnant workers in standing jobs, put in place lifting restrictions for pregnant women, or give pregnant workers the right to carry water or food on the job site. The law would also explicitly prohibit employers from refusing to hire or promote a pregnant worker based on her need for accommodation.
As discussed above, Title VII already prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, and the ADA offers pregnant workers certain protections. Thus, regardless of the potential of a new law, employers should be mindful of the following:
- Treat pregnant women the same as all workers in the workplace through the hiring, firing, and promotion process.
- The EEOC considers pregnancy conditions as a type of temporary disability. Therefore, you must provide pregnant workers with the same type of accommodations that you would provide other individuals with disabilities – if you would provide another worker with an accommodation for lifting because of a back injury, for example, you should provide a pregnant worker with a similar accommodation if necessary. This also applies to leave requests.
- The Family Medical Leave Act also comes into play for pregnant employees – eligible pregnant workers may take FMLA leave. Therefore, disciplinary, termination, and layoff decisions need to be carefully considered when they involve individuals who have exercised their rights under the FMLA to avoid potential allegations of discrimination, retaliation, or interference.
Finally, because pregnancy discrimination issues can be complicated and span multiple laws, it is a good idea to consult an attorney to discuss strategies, discipline measures, and how to appropriately handle medical leave.