EEOC Issues Pregnancy Guidance, U.S. Supreme Court to Review Pregnancy Accommodation Case Next Term

Today, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued an updated Enforcement Guidance on the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Related Issues. The guidance addresses when employers must offer accommodations to pregnant employees. Among other things, the guidance says the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) requires employers to offer light duty and other disability-like accommodations to pregnant employees if they make such accommodations for non-pregnant employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work. It also says employers may not refuse to treat pregnant workers the same as other employees similar in their ability or inability to work based on the source of the limitation (e.g., policies limiting light duty only to employees injured on the job).

This guidance comes less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court granted review of a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision holding the PDA does not require employers to grant light duty to pregnant employees. Young v. United Parcel Service Inc. (4th Cir. 2014). In that case, UPS placed driver Peggy Young on unpaid leave for the duration of her pregnancy when her doctor recommended a 20-pound lifting restriction. UPS said the lifting requirements of her job exceeded the restriction and light duty was not available. UPS contended it treated Young consistently with other employees unable to perform essential job functions due to an off-the-job injury or condition. Moreover, as a unionized employer, UPS said providing light duty would contravene terms of its collective bargaining agreement. UPS’s “pregnancy-blind” policy prevailed in the Fourth Circuit, but the Supreme Court is poised to clarify what “shall be treated the same” under the PDA means, and whether disability-like accommodations should be considered. The Court will likely issue its decision in May or June 2015.

EEOC Commissioner Victoria A. Lipnic issued an opposition statement explaining her decision to disapprove the guidance. She said the EEOC was unwise to issue guidance now as any standards or practices set out for employers may be mooted by the Court’s decision in Young. She also objected to the guidance not being made available for public comment before the EEOC’s vote.

While the enforcement guidance does not have the force of law, employers with light-duty policies restricted to employees with work-related injuries should review those policies with legal counsel. MSEC will update members on developments including the outcome of the Young decision.