Most of the American working population is probably aware that pregnant women are guaranteed the right to work, and hold their jobs when taking a temporary leave of absence for childbirth. But even today, many issues still result in discriminatory practices from employers. Since the 1978 amendment to the Civil Rights Act, pregnancy discrimination cases have incrementally throughout the United States.
In response to these issues, the United States government has issued new guidelines to protect pregnant women in the workplace. From Marisa Taylor of Al Jazeera America, here’s the latest news…
For the first time in more than 30 years, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance on Monday clarifying the terms of the federal pregnancy discrimination law, emphasizing that employers must offer their pregnant employees reasonable accommodations if they’re temporarily unable to do their jobs.
The commission, which last published guidelines on pregnancy discrimination laws back in 1983, spelled out the ways employers must adhere to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in the face of continual violations of the law and a public hearing about the issue in 2012.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed in 1978 as an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for companies with at least 15 employees. Under the new guidelines, the law covers discrimination not only for current pregnancies, but for past and future pregnancies, too. Lactation and breastfeeding are considered medical conditions related to pregnancy and are also protected by the law.
Employers also can’t force pregnant workers to take leave if they’re still able to work, and they have to provide the same parental leave policies to men as they do women, though that’s considered separate from the medical leave that comes along with giving birth or recovering from childbirth, the guidelines said.
And finally, the EEOC sought to clarify when employers have to provide accommodations for their workers who have impairments that are related to pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes or preeclampsia.
“Too many courts have read the 1978 law inappropriately narrowly,” said Emily Martin, vice president and general counsel at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). The EEOC’s new guidance “talks about all of the key areas where we continue to see pregnancy discrimination,” she said. “I think the real question is now is if courts listen to it.”
The 1978 law forbade employment discrimination against women on the basis of pregnancy or conditions related to it, and called for employers to treat pregnant workers the same as they would an employee with a similar limitation.
But what happened in practice, say experts, is that employers would agree to accommodate a pregnant worker’s temporary disability — say, she was unable to lift heavy objects — by forcing her to take unpaid leave. In other cases, companies have fired women for taking out time to breastfeed on the job, or demoted them because they planned to get pregnant in the future.
In other words, the initial intent of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act “has not really come through for a lot of employers,” according to Peggy Mastroianni, who serves as a legal counsel at the EEOC.
These new guidelines have been announced just weeks after the White House held the first ever Working Families Summit… a conference that convened to examine 21st century family and work issues. As stated above, the new guidelines also clarify rights for new fathers to take parental leave. Providing clarity to these workplace practices is sure to be beneficial to families across the United States.