Know Your Rights: Illinois Pregnancy Accommodation Law

On January 1, 2015, the Illinois Pregnancy Accommodation Law, an amendment to the Illinois Human Rights Act, went into effect, providing greater protection for pregnant employees. Now all employers in the State of Illinois are required to make reasonable accommodations for “pregnancy, childbirth, or medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth” upon request by the affected employee. The new amendment expands the protections of prior disability discrimination laws in Illinois, which did not cover accommodations for most pregnant employees who were otherwise healthy. Under the new law, virtually every pregnant employee is entitled to a pregnancy-related accommodation. The Illinois Pregnancy Discrimination Law and Illinois Human Rights Act are State laws which provide protections to pregnant employees in Illinois in addition to those protections under the Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act under Title VII.

In order to assert your rights under the Illinois Pregnancy Accommodation Law, you must make a request for a reasonable accommodation. Upon that request, your employer may require you to provide documentation from your health care provider regarding the need for the requested accommodation. However, your employer may only require your doctor to provide the medical justification for the requested accommodation, a description of the types of accommodations which are medically advisable, the date when the accommodations became medically advisable, and the probable duration of the need for the accommodation. Both the employee and the employer are required to engage in timely, good faith, and meaningful exchange to determine effective and reasonable accommodations.

Once you have requested a reasonable accommodation for your pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition and provided the relevant documentation from your health care provider, it is unlawful for your employer to deny your accommodation request unless it can show that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the ordinary operation of the business. An “undue hardship” on the employer means an accommodation that would be prohibitively expensive or disruptive to the employer’s business when considering the nature and cost of the accommodation; the overall financial resources and size of the employer; the number of employees and location of the employer’s facilities; and the nature of the employer’s operations.

Common examples of reasonable accommodations for pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions may include, but are not limited to: more frequent or longer bathroom breaks, breaks for increased water intake, periodic rest breaks, breaks and privacy for breast-feeding, seating, light duty assignments, temporary transfer to less strenuous or hazardous positions, modification of certain equipment, job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, and time off to recover from conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.

Your employer cannot force you to take leave for your pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition, nor can it force an accommodation on you if you did not ask for an accommodation, even if the employer feels the accommodation is in your best interest.

Finally, your employer cannot retaliate against you for requesting a pregnancy-related reasonable accommodation.

If you feel your rights have been violated, or that you have been unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition, you can file a Charge of Discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and/or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission free of charge. Upon receipt of a Right to Sue Notice from the IDHR or EEOC, you can file a lawsuit in State or Federal Court. Remedies for unlawful discrimination on the basis of pregnancy may include reinstatement to your former position, lost wages, compensatory damages, and attorneys’ fees.

Katz, Friedman provides comprehensive legal services for employees. We concentrate our practice in Workers’ Compensation, Labor & Employment, Personal Injury and Social Security Disability law. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 312-263-6330.