In the first major expansion of benefits for pregnant women at work since the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued new guidelines classifying pregnancy as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Newsradio 1200 WOAI reports.

  That means, according to Monica Velazquez, a business and labor law specialist with the statewide law firm of Strasburger & Price, that employers can no longer retaliate against a pregnant worker who, because of the pregnancy, cannot lift heavy objects, needs additional bathroom breaks on the job, or has to miss work time due to pregnancy related issues like doctor visits.

  "Before, if a pregnant employee would request leave, either for doctors appointments or even for extra bed rest or due to fatigue, most employers were not obligated to give that additional leave," Velazquez said.

  He said the new guidelines were issued in response to differing rulings from the EEOC and the courts since the ADA was approved by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 over whether pregnancy was covered, along with more common disabilities.  Velazquez says in the past, pregnancy-related medical conditions were considered as disabilities, but the pregnancy itself was not.

  She says this will require all employers to change their written policies to incorporate special recognition of the needs of pregnant workers.

  "It says that the leave that should be given is actually in addition to FMLA (Family and medical Leave Act) leave, so it does expand those rights," he said.

  And Velazquez says it is not only women who will benefit from this ruling.  She says men who have a 'relational connection' to a pregnant women, from a husband and a boyfriend to a father or other care giver, will also be required under the new ruling to provide time off and other benefits to deal with the pregnancy.

  She says this ruling will have far reaching consequences for hiring, promotion, and retention of workers.

  "Making a promotion decision, or even a decision when a woman returns from maternity leave, employers will kind of suffer, and they will have to prove that their decisions were based on objective reasons," she said.

  The change in the EEOC law is effective immediately.