HomePoliticsAmerican employers must allow abortions and contraception, the agency says

American employers must allow abortions and contraception, the agency says

By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters) – U.S. employers’ obligation to consider employee pregnancies also extends to abortions and the use of contraception, the U.S. agency that enforces workplace discrimination laws said on Monday.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has unveiled a rule to implement the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, a law that Congress passed in 2022 with bipartisan support and the backing of major business groups.

The law requires employers to change their duties or provide furloughs to employees with “disabilities related to…pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.”

The commission’s rule, proposed last year, has drawn criticism from some Republicans and religious groups who say the law’s protections should not extend to workers who choose to have abortions or use contraception, or if If it does happen, religious employers should be eligible. for an exemption.

A group of Republicans in Congress suggested in comments to the EEOC that the lack of a religious exemption could provide the basis for a legal challenge to the rule.

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Rep. Virginia Foxxa Republican from North Carolina, said Monday that the EEOC exceeded its authority by adopting the rule.

“The term ‘abortion’ is not mentioned once in the law,” Foxx said in a statement. “Rather than following Congress’s intentions, the Biden administration is using the regulatory process to advance radical policy goals.”

The five members of the EEOC are appointed by the president, but the agency functions independently of the White House.

The rule will be formally published on Friday and will take effect 60 days later.

The 2022 law requires U.S. employers with fifteen or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. Previously, federal law required these accommodations only if employers also provided them to employees with injuries or medical conditions.

The list of accommodations employees can seek in the EEOC rule includes restrictions on heavy lifting, part-time work schedules, additional breaks for water and restroom use, modified equipment and uniforms, seating arrangements, remote work, and paid or unpaid leave.

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Employees can also ask to be relieved of certain essential functions of their jobs, as long as they can resume them after pregnancy, the EEOC said.

Business groups and other critics of the rule have said that providing accommodations such as seating and extra breaks sounds simple but could be impractical for many jobs and workplaces.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other groups told the EEOC last year that whether specific accommodations are appropriate should be considered on a case-by-case basis. And once temporary accommodations are granted to pregnant workers, employers should be able to periodically request documentation showing that they are still needed, the groups said.

Many worker advocacy groups supported the regulations. A Better Balance, which advocates for work-life balance measures, said the broad EEOC rule would remove several barriers to women staying in the workforce while pregnant and after they give birth.

“Today, with these final rules, we have achieved a huge step forward for women’s economic security, maternal health and the economy as a whole,” the group’s co-chair Dina Bakst said in a statement.

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In February, a federal judge in Texas agreed with the Republican-led state that the pregnancy bias law was invalid because it was included in a $1.7 trillion government funding bill that had not been properly passed.

The judge blocked the EEOC from enforcing the rule against the state in its role as employer. The commission said in a March filing that it would comply with the ruling and did not indicate whether it would appeal.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Josie Kao)

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