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EEOC approves revised guidelines for pregnancy discrimination

Governments across the world have long recognized protections for pregnant women against workplace discrimination. To illustrate, the nation of Sweden not only bans discrimination based on pregnancy, but also requires all employers with over 25 people on staff to help workers -- both female and male -- achieve a work-life balance.

The U.S. is really no exception, as the guidelines created by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission clearly establish that it is illegal for employers to discriminate against or harass pregnant women.

While these guidelines have proven instrumental in protecting pregnant women in the workplace, they were last updated in 1983. This coupled with the fact that data gathered by the EEOC revealed a 46 percent jump in the number of complaints related to pregnancy from 1997 to 2011 prompted the agency to undertake a much-needed revision.

"Despite much progress, we continue to see a significant number of charges alleging pregnancy discrimination, and our investigations have revealed the persistence of overt pregnancy discrimination, as well as the emergence of more subtle discriminatory practices," said the chair of the EEOC.

These revised guidelines, which were approved by the five-member commission earlier this week on a 3-2 vote, reiterate the requirements of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and, for the first time, discuss how the American with Disabilities Act, as amended in 2008, pertains to those women with pregnancy-related disabilities.

Some of the additional noteworthy points made in the revised EEOC guidelines include:

  • Employers might be required to provide "light duty" for pregnant workers.
  • Employers cannot force pregnant employees to take leave.
  • Employers are prohibited from discriminating against female employers based on past or prospective pregnancies.
  • Lactation is considered a pregnancy-related medical condition.
  • Those men and women who are "similarly situated" must be treated equally when it comes to parental leave.

The EEOC's actions, 30-plus years in the making, earned praise from many, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which has long supported the Obama Administration's efforts to more strictly enforce federal anti-discrimination laws.

"Pregnancy is not a justification for excluding women from jobs that they are qualified to perform, and it cannot be a basis for denying employment or treating women less favorably than co-workers," said an ACLU official.

It is indeed encouraging to see the EEOC greatly enhance the protections available to pregnant workers. Indeed, this should serve to remind any women who have fallen victim to pregnancy discrimination to understand that they do have rights under both state and federal law, and that they can hold an employer accountable for violating these rights.

Source: PBS Newshour, "Updated guidelines give new protections for pregnant women," Tom Raum, July 15, 2014

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