Treat Pregnancy-Related Disabilities as Disabilities

September 22, 2005 ( - The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has said in an informal advisory letter that pregnancy-related disabilities should be treated in the same manner as other disabilities for purposes of fringe benefits, including retirement benefits.

Specifically, BNA reports that the author of the letter to the EEOC asked if an annuity fund governed by ERISA must provide retirement benefits to a pregnant participant since the trust document allows disbursement of those benefits to employees who “become disabled and incapable of continuing to work . . . as a result of bodily injury or disease.”

The author of the letter also asked that, if the fund is required to disburse benefits on the basis of pregnancy, whether there is a distinction between an uncomplicated pregnancy and a pregnancy with a complicating factor that renders the woman unable to work, according to BNA.

In its response, the EEOC said that pregnancy itself is not an impairment, but complications resulting from pregnancy are impairments though they may not be disabilities.   According to BNA, the EEOC said denial of benefits based on pregnancy does not fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but may, in some cases, invoke Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.  

The EEOC also said, BNA reports, that some complications from pregnancy may constitute a disability and, if the denial of benefits is based on the resulting disability and not the pregnancy, then the ADA would apply.

BNA said the EEOC noted in its letter that questions about ERISA provisions should be directed to the Employee Benefits Security Administration of the Department of Labor since the EEOC does not enforce ERISA.