Illinois Employers Required to Recognize and Accommodate “Pregnancy” As New Protected Class
Effective January 1, 2015, the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”) will be amended to include pregnancy as a protected class and afford pregnant mothers certain rights in the workplace. Pregnancy will be defined broadly to include, “pregnancy, childbirth, or medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.” The amendment is consistent with federal laws, such as the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), which recognize pregnancy as a protected class or disability; however, the amendment imposes greater restrictions than such federal laws.
The impact of the amendment on Illinois employers. Illinois employers will now be required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees and applicants for any medical or common condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. The amendment will make it unlawful to fail to hire or otherwise retaliate against an employee or applicant who requests such accommodations.
Examples of reasonable accommodations under the amendment.
- More frequent or longer bathroom breaks;
- Breaks for increased water intake;
- Breaks for periodic rest;
- Private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk and breastfeeding;
- Seating accommodations;
- Assistance with manual labor;
- Light duty;
- Temporary transfer to a less strenuous or non-hazardous position;
- Acquisition or modification of equipment;
- Job restructuring;
- Part-time or modified work schedule;
- Appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations or training materials;
- Assignment to a vacant position; or
- Providing leave.
Reasonable accommodations should not pose an undue hardship on the employer. If the requested accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the “ordinary operation of the business of the employer,” the employer is not required to provide it. “Undue hardship” is defined as something which is “prohibitively expensive or disruptive.” An employer is not obligated to create a new position as a “reasonable accommodation” unless the employer does so or would do so for other employees requesting accommodations.
The amendment will apply to all Illinois employers regardless of size. This may come as a surprise since the IHRA generally defines an “employer” as “any person employing 15 or more employees during 20 or more calendar weeks . . .” See 775 ILCS 5/2-101(B)(1). However, when it comes to complaints of unlawful discrimination based on disability, sexual harassment and now pregnancy, employing one or more employees is sufficient to be regarded as an “employer” under the IHRA. See 775 ILCS 5/2-101(B)(2).
The amendment will afford rights to full-time, part-time and probationary employees alike. The amendment does not limit rights to pregnant employees based on their schedule (e.g., full-time versus part-time) or terms of employment (e.g., probationary or suspended).
The Illinois Department of Human Rights released a mandatory poster and fact sheet for immediate use. All Illinois employers must post the poster in a conspicuous location, and include in any employee handbook that the employer maintains, the Department’s notice summarizing the requirements of the new law and providing information relating to the filing of a charge with the Department, including the right to be free from discrimination and the right to certain reasonable accommodations.