The federal government’s anti-discrimination agency is advising agencies that telework, or remote work, can be legally granted to workers who seek a workplace accommodation while pregnant or recovering from childbirth, whether or not they’re already covered by a hybrid work policy.

According to regulations published this week by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the government must grant workarounds to pregnant employees who request them for their health and safety, so as long they don’t pose a significant burden or cost.

“It promotes health, equal opportunity and economic security for pregnant and postpartum workers by finally providing them with access to temporary changes on the job,” EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows, a Biden appointee, told reporters.

The regulations bolster the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, ensuring that pregnancy, while not a disability in itself, is not a basis for discrimination in the workplace. The regulation also gives the EEOC enforcement power on the issue. Prior to Congress passing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in 2022, the agency had limited ability to investigate cases where where pregnancy was the basis for adverse action against an employee, officials told reporters on Monday.

Workers may have been able to find relief under the ADA, but only if their case rose to a certain level of severity. Others with less egregious cases fell through the cracks, officials said. Now, with the legal bedrock in place, the EEOC has broader standing on this issue, and offered final guidance as to how employers must comply.

Alongside other tools like frequent bathroom breaks or protective gear, EEOC made clear that it interprets telework and remote work as reasonable accommodations under the ADA.

“Telework is one of those things that is very familiar in the federal workplace,” Burrows said. “I would anticipate, frankly, given how frequently a telework is available in the federal workplace, that that would be one of the accommodations that we might see fairly [often].”

Under the law, telework might be used to accommodate bedrest during or after childbirth, a related mobility impairment or a need to avoid getting sick by interacting with others.

Many agencies already have the tech in place to support telework given how many employees were sent home during the COVID-19 pandemic, though it’s not a guarantee. The regulation stipulates that any accommodation request is met with a conversation, which can be simple as a quick internal message or email.

“The regulations also make clear that workers should not face procedural hurdles when seeking needed accommodations, particularly in light of the urgency of many pregnancy-related conditions,” said Vania Leveille, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in a statement. “For instance, workers do not have to use ‘magic words’ or legalese to communicate their need for accommodation, and employers may not demand onerous medical certifications.”

Other related medical conditions

The regulation acknowledges protections not just for pregnancy, but also childbirth and related medical conditions.

In its interpretation, the EEOC clarified that accommodations may potentially be granted to employees who have needs arising from infertility treatments, like in vitro fertilization.

The commission also determined that abortion is included in its definition of “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” for the purposes of approving accommodations.

In practice, the most likely sought-after accommodation for abortion that would be valid under the law and others banning federal funding of the procedure would be time off to attend an appointment or recover.

Other limitations in the act make it clear that “reasonable accommodations” cannot compel an employer to cover a treatment or procedure in their health plans.

And, similarly, a physical or mental limitation related to contraception could generate a request for an accommodation, though again, this decision and others depend on the situation and are made on a case-by-case basis, officials said.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In Other News
Load More