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Feds bring clarity to pregnancy discrimination law

It’s a very simple premise: A person should be able to work and earn a living based on merit rather than extraneous factors. This is one reason why federal lawmakers passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act nearly four decades ago.

For many women, being pregnant is a personal choice and part of building a family. Furthermore, women are generally able to keep working throughout most or all of their pregnancy. As a result of long-standing federal legislation, employers cannot make hiring or employment decisions based on whether or not a female employee is or expected to be pregnant.

Even with this federal law in place, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported a 46 percent spike in pregnancy discrimination complaints between 1997 and 2011. A recent federal rules update, however, will hopefully reverse this trend.

The problem, according to a report from National Public Radio, is that many employers put pregnant employees in a very difficult position. At a certain point in pregnancy, doctors may make simple recommendations, such as weight-lifting restrictions and instructions to consume more water. In a work setting, these health-related needs might require a reasonable accommodation.

In many cases, women were being told by employers that they didn’t need to make reasonable accommodations, because pregnancy isn’t a disability. This put women in a position to take their leave months before giving birth, which puts them in jeopardy of losing work when the legally required leave period runs up.

The EEOC’s updates to the rules apply the principles of reasonable accommodations associated with the Americans with Disabilities Act to pregnant employees. By opening the door to reasonable accommodations, employees will be empowered to keep their jobs during pregnancy.

This is a seemingly simple move that could have a tremendous impact. Now, of course, it is up to employers to abide by federal law.

Source: Naitonal Public Radio, “For Pregnant Women, New Guidelines Aim To Reduce Workplace Discrimination,” Michel Martin, July 22, 2014

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