Employment Law Perspectives: The Illinois Pregnancy Accommodation Act Effective January 1, 2015

On January 1, 2015, The Illinois Pregnancy Accommodation Act went into effect.  The Pregnancy Accommodation Act amended the Illinois Human Rights Act; and by including pregnancy among the defined protected classes, Illinois is among the few states that have expanded the scope of its civil rights protection laws directly to pregnant women.  Under the new Illinois Human Rights Act, individuals will be protected from unlawful discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, age, order of protection status, marital status, physical or mental disability, military status, sexual orientation, pregnancy, or unfavorable discharge from military service.

The text of the Illinois Pregnancy Accommodation Act can be found here.

The Illinois Human Rights Act now protects women who are pregnant, or have recently given birth, from civil rights violations in the workplace.  Under the Illinois Human Rights Act, as amended by the Pregnancy Accommodation Act, it is a civil rights violation for an employer to:

  • not make reasonable accommodations, if so requested, to an employee for “conditions related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions,” unless the employer can demonstrate the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer;
  • require a job applicant or employee to accept an accommodation that the applicant or employee chooses not to accept;
  • require an employee to take leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided;
  • retaliate against an applicant or employee for requesting an accommodation; or
  • fail to reinstate an employee affected by pregnancy, childbirth or common related conditions, to her original, or an equivalent job, with equivalent pay and benefits upon her signifying her intent to return, or when her need for reasonable accommodation ceases, absent proof of an undue hardship on the employer’s business.

The Illinois Human Rights Act applies to employers with 15 or more employees within Illinois during 20 or more calendar weeks in the year preceding an alleged violation.  However, the new Pregnancy Accommodation Act applies to any person employing one or more employees at the time a complaint is made.  Also, the Pregnancy Accommodation Act applies not only to full-time employees, but also to part-time and probationary employees “affected by pregnancy, childbirth or medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.”  Employers must post a notice approved by the Illinois Department of Human Rights, or include a statement in any handbook summarizing the requirements of the Illinois Human Rights Act and information pertaining to the filing of a charge.

At this early date in enforcement, it is unclear how the new Illinois law will interact with existing federal laws that already protect against pregnancy discrimination and the recently expanded EEOC Enforcement on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues (the Guidance).  The Guidance supersedes the EEOC’s prior guidance, which was last updated in 1983.  The EEOC’s July 2014 Guidance covers the wide ranging landscape of federal workplace laws touching on pregnancy and related conditions, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and Executive Order 13152, which prohibits discrimination in federal employment based on parental status.  The Guidance is intended to provide the EEOC’s definitive statement on pregnancy discrimination and its mission is clearly to establish that pregnant employees are entitled to accommodation under both the PDA and the ADA.

Click here for a full copy of the Guidance and accompanying “Questions and Answers” at the EEOC website.

The EEOC Guidance does not have the force and effect of law, but is often considered persuasive in litigation.  In light of the new Illinois Pregnancy Accommodation Act requirements, employers should review their policies and practices to ensure they are compliant with all applicable laws, federal, state and local laws, taking the EEOC Guidance into account.  Employers at a minimum should:

  • Respond to pregnancy discrimination complaints very seriously and protect all employees who complain about retaliation.
  • Review and update all anti-discrimination, benefits, leave of absence, light duty, and accommodation policies to be consistent with the law.
  • Train all necessary staff, including managers and human resources professionals, on the new rights and responsibilities under the Illinois Pregnancy Discrimination Act, PDA, the ADA, and other federal, state and local laws that bear on pregnancy, the duty to accommodate restrictions related to pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation.
  • Focus on qualifications for the job rather than planned pregnancy, pregnancy, recent pregnancy, or caregiver status, of the applicant or employee, when making employment decisions.
  • Document all business reasons for employment actions.
  • If any policies or practices conflict with existing law or the new EEOC Guidance, consult with legal counsel to evaluate the appropriate course of action.