Get Ready for Pregnancy Accommodation Rules Coming in 2015

The Human Rights Act has long banned discrimination based upon pregnancy and childbirth, but new amendments recently signed into law—and effective on January 1, 2015—will significantly expand those protections. The amendments seek to protect pregnant women from discrimination in the workplace by expanding the protections available to pregnant employees and job applicants.

Here is what you need to know about the amended law:

  • It applies to all employers, not just those with 15 or more employees.
  • It expands the definition of pregnancy discrimination to include discrimination against pregnant employees or job applicants based on “medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.”
  • It requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees and job applicants unless the employer can prove that providing the accommodation would present an undue hardship to its ordinary business operations.
  • It makes it unlawful to discriminate or retaliate against a pregnant employee or job applicant for requesting an accommodation.
  • It prohibits employers from forcing a pregnant employee to accept an accommodation that she did not request, or to take leave from work if another accommodation is available that would permit the employee to continue working.

Unless an employer does any of these things to accommodate other eligible employees, it will not be required to:

  • Create a new job.
  • Discharge or transfer other employees in order to accommodate the pregnant employee.
  • Promote a pregnant employee to a position for which she is not qualified.
  • Possible Accommodations
  • The new amendments provide specific examples of accommodations that may be required for pregnant employees or job applicants. These include:
  • More frequent or longer breaks to use the bathroom, drink water, or rest
  • Private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk or breastfeeding
  • Comfortable seating
  • Assistance with manual labor
  • Light duty work
  • Temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position
  • Provision of an accessible worksite
  • Acquisition or modification of equipment
  • Job restructuring
  • Part-time or modified work schedule
  • Adjustment of examinations, training materials or policies
  • Reassignment to a vacant position
  • Leave for pregnancy, childbirth, medical or common conditions resulting from pregnancy or childbirth, or to recover from childbirth or related conditions

The purpose of the legislation is set forth in the enabling legislation: “Because of inadequate protections, pregnant women who are temporarily limited in their abilities to perform their work functions because of pregnancy, childbirth, or conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth are often forced to take unpaid leave or are fired, despite the availability of reasonable accommodations that would allow them to continue to work… Many pregnant women are single mothers or the primary breadwinners for their families. If one of these women loses her job, her whole family, and Illinois, suffers.”1

Illinois employers will be required to notify employees of the new law by posting a notice to be provided by the Illinois Department of Human Rights along with other required employment law posters, and by including the notice in any employee handbook.

1. HB0008, Enrolled. Section 5. Findings.

– Kathryn M. Vanden Berk, J.D.

This article is provided for general information and should not be relied upon as legal advice for a specific situation.  If you are in need of specific advice or legal representation, please do not hesitate to contact us.

©2014 Bea & VandenBerk