Discrimination against pregnant women and caregivers continues to be a widespread problem but conflicting federal and state regulations make it difficult to create a one-size-fits-all approach to staying in compliance, panelists told the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington in February.
Over the past decade, the number of pregnancy discrimination charges has increased by 35 percent and about one in five charges of discrimination filed by women involves claims of pregnancy, testified Judith Lichtman, senior adviser for the National Partnership for Women & Families, based in Washington.
This third foray into the topic by the EEOC since 2007 signals that the commission seeks to educate employers and employees and put organizations on warning that discrimination will not be tolerated, experts say.
The Pregnancy Disability Act has been in effect for more than 30 years, says Sara Begley, a partner at Reed Smith in Philadelphia, noting that these hearings indicate the EEOC will be putting more resources "behind litigating these cases."
Sarah Bouchard, a partner in the labor and employment practice group at Morgan Lewis & Bockius in Philadelphia, advises companies to take a proactive approach. "Make sure that the leave process is smooth and that there are ... discussions about transitioning matters and making sure that, when someone comes back, they feel like a member of the team," she says.
It's also important not to presume to know the views of returning women on work/life issues, she says.