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Federal Law & Parental Leave

November 23, 2016

Federal law (specifically, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)) prohibits employment discrimination based on pregnancy or childbirth, including past or intended pregnancies, the use of contraception, breastfeeding, etc. This is likely not surprising to most employers. On July 14, 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that monitors and investigates employment discrimination matters, issued Enforcement Guidance on pregnancy discrimination that indicates that the PDA's coverage may be much broader than we thought. For example, the EEOC Guidance more thoroughly addresses the connection between the PDA and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC Guidance notes that while pregnancy alone is not a disability under the ADA, pregnant employees may still be entitled to an ADA reasonable accommodation for pregnancy-related impairments (i.e., preeclampsia and gestational diabetes).  

Additionally, the Guidance comments on parental leave policies, and advises that employers need to "carefully distinguish" between leaves of absence related to pregnancy or childbirth and other parental leave benefits. According to the EEOC, if an employer provides parental leave to new mothers that is not medically related (e.g., to allow time to bond with the baby), the employer's failure to offer the same benefit to new dads is discrimination.

The EEOC Guidance also addresses light duty policies, an issue of significant debate which may be addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the very near future. According to the EEOC's interpretation of the PDA, a pregnant employee who is temporarily unable to perform job duties because of a pregnancy-related condition must be treated the same as employees with other impairments. So, if an employer provides light duty assignments to non-pregnant disabled workers, the same must be offered to the pregnant employee. Just a few weeks before the Guidance was issued, the Supreme Court granted a petition to review a contrary opinion from the Fourth Circuit (Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc.), which should provide some very interesting PDA updates later this year.

This article was written by Academy for Nonprofit Excellence instructor, Michael Steele.