Posted by:  Brian LaFratta

Illinois recently enacted a new law requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. The new law, which amends the Illinois Human Rights Act, went into effect on January 1, 2015. It applies to all employers in Illinois, regardless of the number of employees.

Reasonable Accommodations 
The new law effectively requires employers to treat pregnancy much like a disability in terms of providing accommodations. Accordingly, if an employee is unable to perform aspects of her position due to her pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition, the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation which will allow her to perform the essential functions of the position, unless doing so would be an undue hardship to the employer. The new law sets out a list of non-exclusive potential reasonable accommodations:
• 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 or light duty
• temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position
• the provision of an accessible worksite
• 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
• leave necessitated by pregnancy, childbirth, or medical or common conditions resulting from pregnancy or childbirth
An employer is required to provide an accommodation unless is can demonstrate the accommodation would pose an undue hardship.  An accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the ordinary operation of the business of the employer if granting the accommodation would be prohibitively expensive or disruptive when considered in light of the following factors:
(1) The nature and cost of the accommodation needed;
(2) The overall financial resources of the facility or facilities involved in the provision of the reasonable accommodation, the number of persons employed by the facility, the effect on expenses and resources, or the impact otherwise of the accommodation upon the operation of the facility;
(3) The overall financial resources of the employer with respect to the number of its employees, and the number, type, and location of its facilities; and
(4) The type of operation or operations of the employer, including the composition, structure, and functions of the workforce of the employer, the geographic separateness, administrative, or fiscal relationship of the facility or facilities in question to the employer. An employer must reinstate an employee affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth to her original job or to an equivalent position, unless the employer can demonstrate that doing so would impose an undue hardship.
Return from Leave of Absence 
If an employer provides a leave of absence as a reasonable accommodation, upon return from leave, the employee must be reinstated in the same or an equivalent position with equivalent pay and accumulated seniority, retirement, fringe benefits, and other applicable service credits unless doing so would constitute an undue hardship.
Retaliation and Notice 
The new law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who request or attempt to request a reasonable accommodation due to their pregnancy.  Finally, employers are required to post a notice of the new law in the workplace.  The notice can be found at: https://www2.illinois.gov/dhr/Publications/Documents/Pregnancy_Posting-lgl-ENG14.pdf.
What does this mean for you? 
The new Illinois law is a significant expansion to the Illinois Human Rights Act. Employers will not only be required to provide accommodations to pregnant employees, but will have to be careful about issuing discipline to pregnant employees to avoid retaliation claims. In addition, employers will need to review and revise their existing employee handbooks to ensure compliance with the new law.
For additional information, or to consult with one of our employment law attorneys, please feel free to contact Brian LaFratta at (630) 344-1187, or at blafratta@huckbouma.com.