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Illinois Enacts Groundbreaking Pregnancy Discrimination Law

By Mark S. Schuver, Shareholder

On August 26, 2014, Governor Quinn signed into law HB8. The new law, which goes into effect on January 1, 2015, amends the Illinois Human Rights Act to include some of the most expansive protections for pregnant employees in the country. The Act will prohibit all forms of discrimination against pregnant employees, and will impose an obligation on all employers in Illinois to "reasonably accommodate" pregnant workers. This new law will apply to all employers in Illinois, regardless of the size of the business or number of employees.

Currently, state and federal law prohibits employers from treating pregnant women different than other employees. For example, under current law if an employer allows temporarily disabled employees to take disability leave or leave without pay, they must also allow employees who are temporarily disabled due to pregnancy to do the same. However, current law does not impose any obligation on employers to provide maternity leave or to otherwise provide accommodations to pregnant employees which they do not otherwise provide to other temporarily disabled employees. This will all change with enactment of the new amendments to the Illinois Human Rights Act.

Under the new law, employers in Illinois will be prohibited from discharging, disciplining, refusing to hire, taking adverse employment actions, or otherwise discriminating against employees due to pregnancy, childbirth, or medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth. Employers will also be prohibited from requiring pregnant employees to take a leave of absence or change in job positions or duties due to pregnancy, childbirth, or medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth. The new law will also provide for assurances to pregnant employees that their jobs are protected while off work by prohibiting employers from failing or refusing to reinstate employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.

The most dramatic and far-reaching change, however, is the requirement that employers provide “reasonable accommodations” for pregnancy, childbirth, or medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth. The new law defines “reasonable accommodations” as any modification or adjustment of the means reasonable modifications or adjustments to the employee’s job duties or work environment, or which will permit the employee to perform the essential functions of the position, and may include, but is not limited to: more frequent or longer bathroom breaks, breaks for increased water intake, and breaks for periodic rest; private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk and breastfeeding; seating; assistance with manual labor; light duty; temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position; the provision of an accessible worksite; acquisition or modification of equipment; job restructuring; a part-time or modified work schedule; appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, training materials, or policies; reassignment to a vacant position; time off to recover from conditions related to childbirth; and leave necessitated by pregnancy, childbirth, or medical or common conditions resulting from pregnancy or childbirth.

The employer is required to provide these reasonably accommodations, unless the employer can show that they will result in an "undue hardship," which means that the accommodation is prohibitively expensive or disruptive. This determination is not the same for all employers. What constitutes an “undue hardship” is dependent upon a list of factors, including the overall financial resources of the employer, the overall size of the business, the type of operations, and other factors. The employer has the burden of proving undue hardship.

These requirements apply to full-time, part-time and probationary employees. All employers in Illinois should, therefore, be prepared to modify or amend their policies and procedures relating to pregnant employees and maternity leave. If you have any questions in this regard, please contact the Employment Law attorneys of Mathis, Marifian & Richter, Ltd.

Professional Services Disclaimer: Please note that the information presented here is as an educational service, and while it contains information about legal issues, it is not legal advice. No warranty is made regarding the applicability of the information presented to a particular client situation, and the information set forth is not a substitute for original legal research, analysis and drafting for a particular client situation.

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