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.
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.
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.