Tag Archives: pregnancy discrimination

U.S. House of Representatives Passes Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

Contributed by Michael J. Faley, September 29, 2020

On September 17, 2020, the House voted 329-73 to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.  The bill seeks to clarify the law and require employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees impacted by a known pregnancy-related limitation.  Like the Americans with Disabilities Act, the bill calls for an interactive process between employers and pregnant workers to develop proper reasonable accommodations. The bill’s report states that such accommodations could possibly include, for example, providing seating, water, closer parking, properly sized uniforms and safety apparel, light duty, and extra break time to use the bathroom, eat and rest.

The bill comes as the number of pregnancy discrimination complaints has dramatically increased over the last two decades and many employers have faced confusion and uncertainty due to recent court rulings and inconsistent state and local laws. Most notably, in 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Young v. UPS that plaintiffs who bring claims under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act can claim damages if they were denied accommodations that their employer granted to other workers. Since then, several major companies, including Walmart, Amazon, and Google among them, have contended with expensive pregnancy discrimination lawsuits from their employees and the negative press that comes with it. At the same time, workers’ rights groups have never been fully comfortable with the outcome of the Young decision as many argue that it imposes an unduly high burden upon an employee to prove her case.  

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is now being touted as a significant compromise between businesses and their workers. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who has voiced its support, the “bill would provide pregnant employees with important workplace protections while also making sure employers have clear and flexible options to ensure pregnant employees can remain at work for as long as they wish to do so.” 

The U.S. Senate will probably wait until after the election to take up the bill.

Properly Accommodating Pregnant Employees in Hazardous Workplaces

Contributed by Steven Jados, March 2, 2017

The settlement of a recent pregnancy discrimination lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against RTG Furniture Corp., provides a valuable reminder to employers that even well-intentioned limitations placed on pregnant employees are likely to violate Title VII and, where applicable, state laws that prohibit pregnancy discrimination.

pregnant-employeeAccording to the EEOC’s allegations in the lawsuit, within days of being hired, a new employee informed RTG that she was pregnant, but that she had no work restrictions and could perform all aspects of the job. The job required the employee to use certain chemicals to repair furniture. The same day the employee disclosed her pregnancy, RTG management allegedly met with her and confirmed that she was pregnant. During that same meeting, a manager allegedly showed the employee the can of a chemical used in the workplace, and discussed the warning written on the can, which essentially stated that the contents could pose a danger to pregnant women and their unborn children. At the conclusion of that discussion, RTG allegedly terminated the new employee.

Now, it is important to remember that allegations in an EEOC lawsuit are, of course, not necessarily true—and the fact that the case settled, likewise, does not mean the EEOC’s allegations are the truth. Nevertheless, this case provides the useful instruction that employers generally cannot terminate pregnant employees or refuse to hire pregnant applicants, even if the job involves exposure to hazards that are particularly dangerous with respect to pregnancy.

This case also provides the opportunity to discuss the proper approach for employers concerned about exposing pregnant employees to potentially hazardous workplace conditions. Step one, of course, is: don’t terminate employees just because they are pregnant. Instead, employers concerned about exposing pregnant employees to harmful workplace conditions should have policies in place—in employee handbooks, for example—that inform employees, upon hire or even earlier, of the potential risks of the job. And if those risks are greater for pregnant employees, the policies should make clear that pregnant employees should feel free to request accommodations or otherwise bring any questions or concerns to human resources or other appropriate members of management.  Additionally, when an employee informs the company that she is pregnant, the company should take that opportunity to reiterate, in writing, the particular risks of the work environment, and remind the employee of her right to request a pregnancy-related accommodation.

If a pregnant employee wishes to continue doing her job, despite knowing and assuming whatever risks there may be, employers generally do not have the right to take any action that would adversely affect the employee’s job. Moreover, it is especially important for employers to recognize that in addition to federal law protections, there may also be state and local laws that provide additional protections or accommodation requirements for pregnant employees and applicants.

Bearing all of that in mind, employers concerned about exposing pregnant employees to workplace hazards or their obligations to accommodate a pregnant employee should consult with experienced labor and employment counsel to evaluate the hazards in the workplace, and ensure that all policies and notices to pregnant employees are drafted appropriately, and communicated properly.