New Illinois Law to Require Employers to Provide Reasonable Accommodation for Pregnant Workers

On January 1, 2015, a new law is set to take effect that will extend certain protections to pregnant workers in Illinois. The new law amends the Illinois Human Rights Act by requiring employers in Illinois to provide “reasonable accommodations” to job applicants, as well as part time, full time and probationary employees for medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or child birth.

What is a “reasonable accommodation” you might ask? A “reasonable accommodation” can be a modification or adjustment to the employee’s duties or the employee’s work environment that enables a pregnant employee to continue to perform the essential functions of their position. The new law provides examples of reasonable accommodations, such as providing extra bathroom breaks, modifying a pregnant employee’s work schedule or assisting a pregnant employee with manual labor. However, there is no magic formula for what is constitutes a “reasonable accommodation” – ultimately it based on the circumstances surrounding each individual case.

Notably, the law applies not only during pregnancy, but also after an employee has returned to work following the birth of her child. Among the list of “reasonable accommodations” suggested by the new law is an accommodation giving employees private spaces to collect breast milk during the workday. The burden is on the employee to make the request for a reasonable accommodation, which can be made at any time the employee is affected by pregnancy or childbirth. Once such request is made, the employer must either provide reasonable accommodations or demonstrate that the accommodation would place undue hardship on the ordinary operation of the business of the employer. However, an employer cannot require a covered employee to accept an accommodation the employee does not request.

With very few exceptions (i.e., religious corporations, educational institutions, and non-profit nursing institutions), this law applies to any employer who employs one or more employees within the state of Illinois. Additionally, the new law extends protections not just to pregnant employees, but also to pregnant job applicants. Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against employees or applicants that request reasonable accommodations under this law.

However, if an employer can show that supplying a requested accommodation would be an undue hardship on the employer, the employer will not be required to provide that accommodation to the requesting employee. To show undue hardship, an employer bears the burden of showing that the accommodation would be prohibitively expensive or disruptive to the work environment. Further, employers are not required to create an additional job that would not otherwise exist to accommodate a pregnant employee.

It is important to note that the new law also contains mandatory notice requirements. Beginning on January 1, 2015, all employers will be required to post a notice in a conspicuous location informing employees of their rights under this law (the Illinois Department of Human Rights plans to provide form notice on its website before January 2015). Further, for employers with employee handbooks, they will be required to include information about the new law in all future updated handbooks.

Employers must begin planning ahead in drafting policies and procedures regarding reasonable accommodation requests, and remember to comply with the notice requirements that begin this January. For any questions relating to this or any other employment concerns, Carlson Dash is ready to meet your employment law needs.

This document is intended for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for consultation with a licensed legal professional in a particular case or circumstance.