United States: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Issues New Guidance On Women's Rights In The Workplace

On June 14, 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC or Commission) participated in the White House United State of Women Summit. Coinciding with the Summit, the EEOC issued three resource documents that address women's rights in the workplace. The resource documents provide insight into the EEOC's enforcement positions on topics such as wage equality and accommodations for pregnant employees.

The first resource document, found here: Equal Pay and the EEOC's Proposal to Collect Pay Data, emphasizes the Commission's plan to collect summary pay data by gender (among other classifications) from employers with 100 or more employees. The Commission claims that the pay data will be used to provide insight into pay disparities across industries and to strengthen federal efforts to combat pay discrimination. The Commission received comments on its proposal to collect pay data in March 2016 and expects to submit any revisions to the proposal for a second comment period in the summer of 2016. The original proposal can be viewed here: proposal.

The second and third resource documents, found here: Legal Rights for Pregnant Workers under Federal Law and here: Helping Patients Deal with Pregnancy-Related Conditions and Restrictions at Work, explain the Commission's position on employer obligations to pregnant women under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The first of these documents is directed to employees and primarily addresses, in question and answer format, the circumstances under which an accommodation might be required as well as possible accommodations. For example:

  • What if I am having difficulty doing my job because of pregnancy or a medical condition related to my pregnancy?

    You may be able to get an accommodation from the employer that will allow you to do your regular job safely... Examples include altered break and work schedules (e.g., breaks to rest or use the restroom), permission to sit or stand, ergonomic office furniture, shift changes, elimination of marginal job functions, and permission to work from home.
  • What if there's no way that I can do my regular job, even with an accommodation?

    First, if you are being told by a health care provider that you can't do your job safely and, for example, need light duty or can't do your job because of a limitation or restriction, you may want to make sure that it's really true. Your health care provider may not have considered the possibility that an accommodation would allow you to do your regular job safely... Things like reduced workloads and temporary reassignments often come with reduced pay, but your employer is not allowed to reduce your pay because you need an accommodation to do your regular job.

    If you really can't do your regular job safely, even with an accommodation, you might be able to get altered job duties under the PDA. Depending on how your employer treats non-pregnant employees with similar limitations, the PDA might require your employer to reduce your workload, remove an essential function of your job, or temporarily assign you to a different position if the employer does those things for non-pregnant employees with limitations similar to yours.

The second pregnancy-related fact sheet is aimed at the healthcare providers who treat pregnant employees. It educates those providers regarding accommodations that are available to their patients and describes what the providers can do to assist a patient/employee in securing an accommodation.

As these adresource documents demonstrate, the Commission continues to focus its enforcement efforts on pay disparities and pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Employers should make sure they are well educated concerning their obligations under the Equal Pay Act, the PDA and ADA. When in doubt, a quick call to employment counsel could avoid a costly legal battle with an employee or the EEOC.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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