EEOC Crack Down: How to Avoid a Pregnancy Discrimination Claim

In the last several years, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been aggressively cracking down on pregnancy discrimination, filing lawsuits on behalf of women who have faced discrimination in the workplace. In 2017 alone, they awarded more than $15 million in damages and continue to investigate employers across the country. Charges range from refusal to hire to unwillingness to provide reasonable accommodation and span every sector of the workforce. The companies found guilty of discrimination are faced with being in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and are responsible for paying out potential wages lost in addition to fees for any pain and suffering faced.

The PDA defines pregnancy discrimination as “discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” dictating that any pregnant applicant or employee must be treated in the same manner as other individuals with similar ability and/or inability to work. It is the responsibility of the EEOC to investigate all claims of discrimination made by employees that allege violation of federal civil rights law, like the PDA, or state legislation created in support of those laws. These lawsuits have not only called attention to federal anti-discrimination laws but have also prompted the creation of new state and local legislation across the country, meant to further reinforce federal law.

While the idea of facing a discrimination lawsuit is scary, these cases provide us with an opportunity to educate ourselves. Learning from the EEOC’s crack down can help us to build an understanding of anti-discrimination laws that can inform the creation of strong, ethical policy that protects both our employees and our organizations. Whether the discrimination these women faced was intentional or unintentional, that discrimination created a hostile work environment that could have been avoided. Their struggles exemplify the importance of enacting anti-discrimination policies that not only assist in avoiding the courtroom but create a more supportive, healthy, and inclusive work environment for all.

Prevention of discrimination in the workplace begins with engaging in an open and transparent dialogue with employees and extends to the creation and implementation of adequate policy that complies with anti-discrimination laws. While the PDA gives us a clear definition of reasonable accommodation as it relates to pregnancy, it is important to understand accommodation needs vary from person to person. Enacting an open-door policy that empowers employees to communicate their needs and frustrations in a productive way, enables you, the employer, to understand how to best meet those needs and create a supportive and productive work environment.

Adoption of policies centered around treating employees with respect and as people, not commodities, allows us to create a more positive work environment and avoid violation of anti-discrimination laws. While it never hurts to have liability insurance, the best approach is to establish clear written policies and procedures that genuinely reflect your organization’s commitment to the fair treatment of all employees. While the idea of facing a lawsuit is intimidating, we can avoid the courtroom or other legal processes through remembering the people-factor in our workforce and doing our best to comply with legislation and embrace meeting the needs of our employees and our organizations.

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