On May 28, 2014, the Illinois legislature passed amendments to the Illinois Human Rights Act that expand employment protections for employees and applicants related to pregnancy, childbirth and related conditions. The additional protections, which are awaiting Illinois Governor Pat Quinn's expected signature, will go into effect January 1, 2015. While the Human Rights Act has specifically provided employment protections to women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions since 2011, the new amendments now specifically outline an employer's obligation to consider an employee's request for a reasonable accommodation due to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. Illinois employers of all sizes must comply with the updated requirements, which protect all full-time, part-time and probationary employees.

Under the amendments, it will be a civil rights violation for an employer to refuse to 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 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 can be provided. The amendments provide for reinstatement rights for affected employees.

The Human Rights Act amendments identify some specific reasonable accommodations that employers may consider for pregnant employees or women who have recently given birth, including, but not limited to: more frequent or longer bathroom breaks, increased water or periodic rest breaks, seating, assistance with manual labor, light duty, temporary transfer to less strenuous or hazardous positions, accessible worksites, modification of equipment, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to vacant positions, time off to recover from childbirth, and leave required by the employee's pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions. No employer will be 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 accommodations.

Factors that will be considered in determining whether an accommodation poses an "undue hardship" to an employer are defined under the legislation and include:

  • 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, the amendments also require Illinois employers to post a notice that will be available from the Illinois Department of Human Rights regarding an employee's rights under the legislation.

What Does This Mean for Employers?

Illinois joins at least seven other states (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey and West Virginia) and two cities (New York City and Philadelphia) in requiring private employers to consider an employee's request for an accommodation due to pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions. See our prior Alerts on the New Jersey law and New York City and Philadelphia ordinances. In addition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) specifically has identified accommodation of pregnancy-related limitations under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) or the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) as a primary target issue for its enforcement and litigation efforts over the next several years.

All employers should review their 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 treated fairly and in compliance with all federal, state and local laws.