On August 26, 2014, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn  signed legislation (House Bill 00008), amending  the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) to expand  employment protections for employees and  applicants related to pregnancy, childbirth, and  related conditions. The amendments outline an Illinois  employer’s obligations to consider an employee’s  request for a reasonable accommodation due to  pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.  Beginning January 1, 2015, all Illinois employers must  comply with the updated requirements, which protect  all full-time, part-time, and probationary employees.

Employer Requirements

Under the amendments, an employer must provide  a reasonable accommodation for any medical or  common condition related to pregnancy or childbirth,  upon a request by an employee or applicant,  unless the employer can demonstrate that the  accommodation would impose an “undue hardship”  on ordinary business operations. Employers may  request documentation from the employee’s health  care provider concerning the need for the requested  reasonable accommodation to the same extent  documentation is requested for conditions related to  disability if the employer’s request for documentation  is job-related and consistent with business necessity.  The employee and employer are further required  to “engage in a timely, good faith, and meaningful  exchange to determine effective reasonable  accommodations.”

Employers may not deny employment opportunities  or take adverse employment action against otherwise  qualified applicants or employees if the decision  is based on the employer’s need to make such  reasonable accommodations. Employers also may  not force employees to accept an accommodation  that they did not request or to which they did not  agree, and may not force employees to take leave if  another reasonable accommodation is available. The  amendments also provide for reinstatement rights for  affected employees.

Moreover, employers are not required to create  additional employment opportunities for women  affected by pregnancy or childbirth conditions unless  the employer does so for other employees who  request accommodations. Employers also will not be  required to discharge or transfer another employee, or  to promote an unqualified employee, to accommodate  women covered under the amendments unless the  employer does so for other employees who request  such accommodations.

The amendments further set forth that “undue  hardship” means “an action that is prohibitively  expensive or disruptive when considered in light of  the following factors:”

  • the nature and cost of the accommodation;
  • the overall financial resources of, the number of  persons employed at, the effect on expenses and  resources of, and other impacts on the operations of  the facility involved;
  • the overall financial resources; the overall number  of employees; and the number, type, and location of  the facilities of the employer involved; and
  • the type of operations of the employer and  relationship of the facility involved to the overall  operations of the employer.

Finally, under the amendments, employers are  required to  post – in a conspicuous location –  and  include in any employee handbook, information  concerning an employee’s rights under the amended  IHRA. The Illinois Department of Human Rights  will provide, on its website, the required notice  documents.

Other States

Illinois joins at least seven other states (California,  Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, New  Jersey, and West Virginia) in requiring private  employers to consider an employee’s request for  an accommodation due to pregnancy, childbirth,  or related conditions. See our prior client briefings  covering the New York City’s Human Rights Law and  New Jersey. In addition, on July 14, 2014, the Equal  Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued  an enforcement guidance “Pregnancy Discrimination  and Related Issues,” along with a question and answer  document about the guidance and a Fact Sheet for  Small Businesses. See EEOC Releases New Guidance  Regarding Pregnancy Discrimination.

Therefore, employers are reminded to review equal  employment opportunity, reasonable accommodation,  and leave policies, as well as related procedures,  forms, and training materials, to ensure pregnancy,  childbirth, and related medical conditions are in  compliance with all federal, state, and local laws.