A Refresher on the Pregnancy Discrimination Act The PDA, as it stands today, includes relevant provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), which is the federal agency charged with enforcing those laws, summarizes it as follows: The laws require “that an employer treat women affected by pregnancy, past pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition in the same manner as other applicants and employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.” That similar treatment “covers all aspects of employment,” the summary continues, “including firing, hiring, promotions, and fringe benefits such as leave or health insurance benefits.” Here are several key elaborations on those broad principles:
- An employer may not discriminate based on an employee’s intention or potential to become pregnant, such as by excluding a woman from a job that involves processing certain chemicals out of concern that exposure would be harmful to a fetus if the employee became pregnant.
- Conditions “related to pregnancy” can include lactation. Therefore, discrimination against a woman due to her breastfeeding schedule would violate the PDA.
- Employers must allow women with physical limitations resulting from pregnancy to take leave on the same terms and conditions as others who are similar in their ability or inability to work.
- Employers may not single out an employee’s pregnancy-related condition for medical clearance procedures that aren’t required of employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.
Reasonable Accommodations As noted, backers of HR 2694 believe that the existing pregnancy discrimination law’s “reasonable accommodation” provisions are weak. The EEOC offers several examples of such accommodations:
- Redistributing marginal or nonessential functions (for example, occasional lifting) that a pregnant worker cannot perform, or altering how an essential or marginal function is performed,
- Modifying workplace policies by allowing a pregnant worker more frequent breaks or allowing her to keep a water bottle at a workstation even though the employer generally prohibits employees from keeping drinks at their workstations,
- Modifying a work schedule so that someone who experiences severe morning sickness can arrive later than her usual start time and leave later to make up the time,
- Allowing a pregnant worker placed on bed rest to telework where feasible,
- Granting leave in addition to what an employer would normally provide under a sick leave policy,
- Purchasing or modifying equipment, such as a stool for a pregnant employee who needs to sit while performing job tasks typically performed while standing, and
- Temporarily reassigning an employee to a light duty.
While all these requirements of existing law might seem comprehensive, not everyone agrees.