EEOC focuses on pregnancy-related disabilities and the ADAAA
In a recent article published by the legal editor for HR.BLR.com, it was noted that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is taking a close look at how employers respond to pregnancy-related disabilities in the workplace. In December 2012, the EEOC approved its Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP), which outlines where the agency will focus its enforcement efforts over the next few years. One targeted enforcement area is accommodating pregnancy-related limitations under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).
The EEOC referenced its SEP and this priority area earlier when it announced a settlement with an employer that allegedly discriminated against a pregnant employee by failing to engage in the interactive process and refusing to accommodate her severe nausea and vomiting by moving her office closer to a restroom.
In addition to paying $70,000, the settlement requires the employer to hire an equal employment opportunity consultant to create and implement anti-discrimination policies, complaint procedures, and a centralized tracking system for discrimination complaints.
In early May, the National Women’s Law Center announced the settlement of a claim it filed with the EEOC on behalf of a hospital cleaner who requested a lifting accommodation when her pregnancy made it difficult for her to lift heavy bags of laundry and trash. Although the lifting restriction was documented by her doctor, the employer allegedly placed the employee on involuntary unpaid Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave the same day she made her request.
In light of these complaints and the EEOC’s stated focus on accommodating pregnancy-related limitations, employers covered by the Pregnancy Disability Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (i.e., employers with 15 or more employees) should make sure they comply with both laws when evaluating a pregnant employee’s request for accommodation.
So what should employers do when a pregnant employee asks for a workplace modification, adjustment, or other type of accommodation? Here are some suggestions:
• A woman who has a temporary disability caused by pregnancy may be entitled to light duty or unpaid leave if an employer provides these options to employees with other types of temporary disabilities.
• An employee can use plain language when requesting an accommodation—she doesn’t need to mention the ADA or use the phrase "reasonable accommodation."
• If an employee’s condition might be an ADA disability, start the interactive process—have an informal discussion with the employee about how her restrictions affect her ability to do her job.
• Obtain necessary documentation—if the need for accommodation isn’t obvious, ask for documentation from the employee’s healthcare provider, but make sure the request is limited to information needed to establish the existence of a disability and the need for reasonable accommodation.
• Document the steps taken in response to the employee’s request.
• Don’t forget to check state laws and regulations that cover smaller employers and/or provide more protection for pregnant employees.
• Provide training for supervisors so they know how to respond to requests from pregnant workers.
If you have any further questions regarding this article, please contact Beverly Purtell, Sr. VP-HR Management at firstname.lastname@example.org.