Last year, Governor Quinn signed into law a new Pregnancy Accommodation Act, or the Illinois Pregnancy Accommodation Amendments (the “Pregnancy Fairness Act”). Effective January 1, 2015, the Pregnancy Fairness Act states that Illinois employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women, during and after pregnancy.  The new law applies to full and part-time employees. The Pregnancy Fairness Act defines “reasonable accommodations” as actions or adjustments which would permit an employee to perform in a reasonable manner the activities involved in the job or occupation, including an accessible worksite, acquisition or modification of equipment, job restructuring, and modified work schedule. Thus, the most frequent accommodations will probably involve more frequent or longer bathroom breaks, access to places to sit, breaks for increased water breaks, assignments to light duty, limits on lifting, a part-time or modified work schedule, and access to private non-restroom areas for breastfeeding. Notably, a reasonable accommodation may also include periods of leave from work even if such employee may not otherwise qualify for a leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Undue Hardship

Consistent with other laws requiring accommodations, the accommodations required under the Pregnancy Fairness Act must be reasonable and may not result in undue hardship to the employer. “Undue hardship” comes down to “an action that is prohibitively expensive or disruptive” based on certain factors such as: the nature and cost of the accommodation needed, the impact of the accommodation upon the operation of the facility involved in the provision of requested accommodation, overall financial resources of the employer, size of business with respect to the number of employees, the number, type, location of facilities, and the type of operation of the employer. If the courts are consistent in their interpretation of the undue hardship standard, it would be difficult for employers to meet such a standard. The employers have the burden of proving prohibitive undue hardship.

Further Employer Requirements

The employer is not required to discharge any employee, transfer any employee with more seniority, or promote any employee who is not otherwise qualified to perform the job, unless the employer does so or would do so to accommodate other classes of employees who need it. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees requesting accommodations under the Pregnancy Fairness Act or, for that matter, exercising any other rights provided under the Human Rights Act, which it amends. Importantly, the new Pregnancy Fairness Act also provides to employees job reinstatement rights. It’s recommended, therefore, that employers revise their handbooks (if adopted) to incorporate the new accommodation requirements set forth in the Pregnancy Fairness Act. The Pregnancy Fairness Act requires employers to post a new notice summarizing the employees’ rights under the act. The Illinois Department of Human Rights has published a new notice for employers to post along with the other required employment-related notices. The new notice can be found on the Illinois Department of Human Rights’ website. The new notice has been prepared in both English and Spanish languages. However, only the English version is required to be posted; employers have discretion whether to post the Spanish version. The Spanish version may not be posted in lieu of the English version.

For more information visit the EEOC’s website here.

If you have any questions about the new Illinois pregnancy accommodation law or the accommodations required under that law, please contact Oleg N. Feldman with Lexern Law Group at (847) 777-6838.