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Employment eAlert: Employers Take Note of EEOC's New Workplace Pregnancy "Guidance"

June 2014

Generally, when the EEOC issues workplace "guidance," employers should review their policies and procedures to determine if the policies and procedures are consistent with the EEOC's position. The EEOC recently issued "Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Topics," as applicable to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). The PDA covers employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. We believe the following new EEOC pregnancy discrimination guidelines are particularly noteworthy, but you should review them all with respect to your specific workplace:

  • Light Duty:  An employer is required to provide light duty under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) "if it provides light duty for employees who are not pregnant but who are similar in their ability or inability to work. An employer may not treat pregnant workers differently from employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work based on the cause of their limitations. For example, an employer may not deny light duty to a pregnant employee based on a policy that limits light duty to employees with on-the-job injuries."
  • Forced Leave Prohibited:  An employer may not force an employee to take leave because she is or has been pregnant, as long as she is able to perform her job.
  • Caregiver Protections:  An employer may not deny job opportunities to women, but not to men, with young children, or reassign a woman who has recently returned from maternity leave to less desirable work, based on the assumption that, as a new mother, she will be less committed to her job.
  • Protections for Employees Who are Able or Intend to Become Pregnant:  Generally, employers may not impose sex-specific policies that restrict women from certain jobs based on childbearing capacity, such as banning fertile women from jobs with exposure to harmful chemicals. "Even when an employer believes it is acting in an employee's best interest, adverse actions based on assumptions or stereotypes are prohibited. For instance, it is unlawful for an employer to involuntarily reassign a pregnant employee to a lower paying job involving fewer deadlines based on an assumption that the stress and fast-paced work required in her current job would increase risks associated with her pregnancy."

The guidelines are here: www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/pregnancy_qa.cfm. The EEOC has also included practical examples of reasonable accommodations that may be necessary for someone whose pregnancy-related impairment is a disability.

If you have questions about the legality of your policies, your Employee Handbook, or any other employment law issues, please feel free to contact us.

This article was written by Elizabeth Semler, former Sussman Shank LLP Employment Law Partner.

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