New Pregnancy Discrimination and Accommodation Laws Effective January 1, 2015
By Jennifer M. Ballard
On January 1, 2015, the pregnancy discrimination and accommodation amendments to the Illinois Human Rights Act became law, creating substantial new rules for employers interacting with pregnant workers in Illinois. The new Illinois law provides that employers may not discriminate against an employee or job applicant because of pregnancy, childbirth or related condition or because the employee or applicant requests a pregnancy accommodation or refuses to accept an employer’s accommodation. Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued new guidance on pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Enforcement Guidance: Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues is the first official update on the EEOC’s position on pregnancy in 30 years. The new Illinois law sets forth many of the same rules identified in the EEOC’s pregnancy guidance. Illinois, however, has set forth legally binding and far more specific rules for pregnancy accommodation. Additionally, smaller employers who are exempt from the federal requirements are not exempt from the new Illinois rules. This new law applies to employers with one or more employees and covers job applicants and part-time, full-time, and probationary employees.
Under the new Illinois law, any pregnant employee or job applicant will have to be accommodated in the same way that disabled employees currently are accommodated under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Thus, an employer must provide reasonable accommodation to a pregnant applicant or employee unless the accommodation would create an undue hardship. Specific accommodations that may be appropriate and necessary, according to the law, include longer bathroom breaks, assistance with manual labor, temporary transfer to a less strenuous position, equipment purchase, modified work schedules, and time off to recover from pregnancy-related conditions.
A particularly noteworthy provision in the new amendments provides that absent a showing of undue hardship by the employer, an employee who has been affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth must be reinstated to her original job or to an equivalent position with equivalent pay and accumulated seniority, retirement, fringe benefits, and other applicable service credits upon her signifying her intent to return or when her need for reasonable accommodation ceases.
Finally, the new law requires all Illinois employers to post in a conspicuous location, a notice of pregnant employee’s rights under the law. The pregnancy rights notices are available on the Illinois Department of Human Rights’ website. Employers are advised to post the notice (English and Spanish) on employee bulletin boards, where other such mandated posters are displayed. In addition to the poster requirement, the amendments also require Illinois employers to modify employee handbooks to include a summary of employees’ rights under the new pregnancy law.
Jennifer Ballard, attorney at Hinshaw & Culbertson’s Chicago office, represents management employers around the country in the full range of labor and employment matters. In addition to her litigation practice, Jennifer devotes a substantial part of her practice to training employers, their managers, and employees to minimize potential employment liabilities. She also represents employers in labor issues involving union organizing efforts, collective bargaining negotiations, grievance and arbitration proceedings, strikes and administrative hearings. Jennifer has served on the Board of Directors for the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois since 2012.