The question of whether Title VII requires employers to reasonably accommodate pregnant employees is front and center lately in light of the Supreme Court agreeing to hear a case on this issue and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issuing interpretive guidance on the issue. There will soon be no such question in the state of Illinois, however, as Governor Quinn is likely to sign Illinois House Bill 8. House Bill 8 would amend the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”) to require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees and employees with “medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.” The amendments also make clear that women affected by medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth are to be treated the same for all employment purposes as other employees who are similar in their inability to work.
The IHRA currently prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. House Bill 8 would expand this protection by requiring employers to provide employees experiencing pregnancy, childbirth, or “medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth” with reasonable accommodations and ensuring such employees are treated the same as other employees who are similar in their “inability to work.” The Bill excludes accommodations that constitute an undue burden and defines a reasonable accommodation as a modification permitting the employee (or applicant) to perform the job’s activities in a reasonable manner. The Bill further provides examples of specific accommodations that are presumptively reasonable, including:
- Modifying or purchasing new equipment
- Modified work schedules or periodic rest breaks
- Assistance with manual labor
- Accessible worksites
- Light duty assignments
- Temporary transfer to a less strenuous position
- Job restructuring
The Bill also makes it a violation of the IHRA to force such employees to take a leave of absence when a reasonable accommodation exists. It likewise prohibits requiring an employee to accept an accommodation if the employee did not request an accommodation and does not want one. The Bill further requires that women with medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth must be reinstated to the same or an equivalent position upon returning to work or notifying the employer that the accommodation is no longer necessary. Next Steps Although many employers’ policies address pregnancy discrimination under Title VII and reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, additional steps are necessary to comply with House Bill 8. Employers should:
- Revise workplace policies, particularly those relating to pregnancy and job-related accommodations;
- Evaluate the types of accommodations that are potentially available to all employees, including pregnant employees;
- Keep a record of the accommodations or job modifications granted to all employees, regardless of whether or not the individual is pregnant; and
- Seek counsel on how to implement the changes required by the new law.
Should Governor Quinn approve House Bill 8, it will go into effect January 1, 2015 and apply to employers with one or more employees.