On June 14, 2016, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) published expansive new guidelines that explain and clarify the legal rights of pregnant employees under federal law. Federal law protects employees against pregnancy-based discrimination and harassment in the workplace. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) prohibits employers from discrimination against employees based on present or past pregnancy, intended pregnancy, medical conditions related to pregnancy, and having or considering an abortion. Employers cannot terminate, refuse to hire or promote, or demote an employee based on any of these factors. Employers are also prohibited from forcing an employee to take a leave of absence for any of these reasons, even if the employer believes that work would pose a risk to the employee or her pregnancy. However, an employer is not required to keep an employee in a job that she is unable to perform or in which she would pose a significant safety risk to others in the workplace.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) provides an employee with the right to a reasonable accommodation from an employer if the employee has a pregnancy-related medical condition that meets the definition of a disability under the ADA, i.e., a condition that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
The PDA may provide an employee with the right to a reasonable accommodation from an employer to the extent that the employer gives accommodations to employees who have similar limitations that were not caused by pregnancy. This implies a right to reasonable accommodation under the PDA.
Additionally, the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) provides an eligible employee with the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for pregnancy or related medical conditions from an employer that is covered by the FMLA. With certain exceptions, an employer is required to restore the employee to her position or an equivalent position on her return from FMLA leave.
An employer cannot fire or take other adverse job action against an employee because she requests or needs an accommodation. Retaliation is unlawful.
It should be noted that the PDA and ADA apply to employers with 15 or more employees. However, the sections of the Illinois Human Rights Act that deal with pregnancy discrimination, which provide similar and even more expansive legal rights for pregnant employees, apply to Illinois employers of any size, even employers with only one employee.