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Expanding the Definition of Sex Discrimination and Sexual Harassment

New rules and guidelines adopted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission make it clear that employers are prohibited from engaging in any form of workplace discrimination or harassment against pregnant employees. Any such discrimination or harassment is deemed a form of “sex discrimination” and is illegal.

In support of their decision to update the guidelines, the EEOC cited “persistence of overt pregnancy discrimination, as well as the emergence of more subtle discriminatory practices.” According to reports by the EEOC, there has been a 46% increase in pregnancy-related complaints to the EEOC from 1997 to 2011.

In summary, the new guidelines: (1) prohibit employers from forcing pregnant workers to take leave; (2) require employers to provide any accommodations for pregnant employees that they provide for other temporarily disabled employees; including light duty, alternative assignments, and paid or unpaid disability leave; (3) recognizes impairments resulting from pregnancy as potential disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act; and (4) requires employers to treat similarly situation men and women on the same terms.

It is important for employers to be sure employee handbooks and guidelines comply with the new standards adopted by the EEOC.

References: EEOC Issues Updated Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Press Release, www1.eeoc.gov//eeoc/newsroom/release/7-14-14.cfm?renderforprint=1, July 14, 2014.

Pregnancy Discrimination, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/pregnancy.cfm, accessed July 28, 2014.

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