- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A federal agency has updated rules aimed at preventing employers from taking adverse actions against pregnant women, new mothers and women in their childbearing years.

“Discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions is a prohibited form of sex discrimination,” the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said this week as it published its new enforcement guidance on pregnancy discrimination and related issues.

It has been illegal for around 30 years to mistreat employees who become pregnant or new mothers. But a significant number of employers have been charged with overt or subtle discrimination of these workers, said EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien.

The new guidance will help employers, workers and job seekers to comply with existing laws, she said, referring to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

The new rules issued Monday were approved by a 3-2 private vote, with both Republican-appointed members objecting.

In general, the rules say women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions must be treated like other persons similar in their ability or inability to work.

Breast-feeding, for instance, is a covered, pregnancy-related medical condition.

Pregnant workers may be given “light duty” or other reasonable accommodations if available to other employees, and pregnant workers who can perform their jobs cannot be forced to take leave.

The anti-discrimination policies also cover past pregnancies and a woman’s potential to become pregnant, the EEOC said.

“Far too many pregnant workers have been forced off the job and denied a paycheck just when they need it most, despite the fact that they are willing and able to come to work,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s Washington legislative office. “No woman should be forced to choose between a healthy pregnancy and the paycheck she needs to provide for her family,” she said.

“Despite existing protections, pregnancy discrimination remains a serious problem for women and families in this country,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families.

These updated rules will clarify existing legal protections and define the best practices for businesses in these situations, she said.

EEOC Commissioner Victoria A. Lipnic said she was unhappy the final draft was not made available for public review, especially since its “new and dramatic” changes mean the EEOC is “legislating,” not regulating.

Ms. Lipnic and EEOC Commissioner Constance S. Barker also questioned the timing of the commission’s actions.

The Supreme Court has agreed to review a lawsuit involving pregnant employees and their rights to jobs. The case, Young v. United Parcel Service Inc., is likely to decide which employees are comparable to pregnant workers and what treatment pregnant workers may be entitled to.

The EEOC is setting forth standards and practices “that may well be mooted” in the near future by the Supreme Court,” Ms. Lipnic wrote in a statement obtained by Bloomberg BNA.

“If our interpretation” of the 1978 law “does not correspond exactly with the Court’s decision, we will have provided an incorrect interpretation” on a significant issue, added Ms. Barker.

Democrat-appointed EEOC Commissioners Chai R. Feldblum and Jenny Yang joined Ms. Berrien in approving the guidance.

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