Buffalo, NY - This week, for the first time in more than thirty years, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued new guidelines to protect pregnant women from workplace discrimination.
Harvey Sanders is an employment attorney in Western New York who has tried his fair share of workplace discrimination cases involving expectant mothers.
"We do get people coming to our firm who were employed and were terminated shortly after they told their employer that they were pregnant, or that they were going out on interviews and they were visibly pregnant and they were denied opportunities," says Sanders.
According to the EEOC, from 1997 through 2013, charges alleging pregnancy discrimination filed with federal, state and local agencies jumped 73-percent in the United States. But this is the first time the EEOC has issued new guidelines for employers since 1983.
Sanders spoke about how wide-ranging the guidelines are.
"One is that they should train their employees and both their managers and their employees, one is that they should survey their employees periodically in terms of what their experiences have been as employees, one is that they should respond to complaints that are made to investigate them, and then the last is that they take steps to avoid retaliating against employees if they do make mistakes," he says.
And, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Americans with Disabilities Act now protect women before, during and after pregnancy. Employers must also give pregnant women the option of light duty.
"While you're an employee, if you're pregnant, or if you think that you're not getting the same opportunities for advancement in the firm because of the fact that you've had kids or that you may have kids in the future, that can be a real career difference," says Sanders.
Sanders says the point of the guidelines is to give employees and their attorneys, and employers, an understanding of how the EEOC will process charges if they're filed. And, this is not exclusive to female employees.
"Let's not ignore the men, of course. So the statute here covers men as well. The guidance specifically encourages that men be given the same kinds of parental leave to care for children or to bond with children, to connect with children after delivery," says Sanders.
Sanders says an employer targeting an employee for breast feeding or a medical condition like bed rest, or even asking about your family situation during a job interview could all be considered illegal discrimination according to these new guidelines.