Discrimination against pregnant women in the workforce has long been a concern, and now the Illinois legislature has passed a new law designed to help give women greater protection. The new law modifies the Illinois Human Rights Act, effective starting next year, to more clearly protect pregnant women's rights. The new rights include the right to reasonable accommodation of their pregnancy by their employers, protection from employment discrimination, and protection from forced leave. The law also grants employers some protection from unreasonable demands, such as the ability to refuse accommodations if such accommodations would place an undue hardship on the business.
New Rights for Pregnant Women
The law includes four new rights for “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or medical or common conditions related to childbirth.” The most legally complex of these rights is the right to a reasonable accommodation of their pregnancy. These accommodations are changes to the employee’s duties or their workspace that allow the employee to perform the “essential duties” of the position. The law provides some examples of these reasonable accommodations, which may include things like more frequent bathroom breaks, private space for breastfeeding, or a modified work schedule.
The law also provides another set of more concrete rights to pregnant women. For instance, employers may not force accommodations onto a pregnant woman if she does not want them, a provision that is likely designed to protect women from being forced to modify or reduce their work schedules. Similarly, the law forbids an employer from forcing a pregnant woman to take maternity leave if she chooses not to.
The law also includes a new set of rights for employers that relate to the issue of reasonable accommodation. The first right is that employers can claim that the accommodation the woman is asking for would place an undue hardship on the company. The law defines undue hardship as “an action that is prohibitively expensive or disruptive.” It also provides four factors for judges to consider when determining whether something is an undue hardship:
- 1. The nature and cost of the accommodations;
- 2. The financial resources of the facility providing the accommodation and the accommodation's impact on the company's operations;
- 3. The resources and size of the employer; and
- 4. The type of work the employer does.
This provides a highly individualized test that depends greatly on both the specific employer and the accommodation requested. The law also provides the employer with the right to request medical documentation supporting the need for the accommodation.
If you believe that your rights under this new act are being violated or if you are an employer concerned about your obligations under the new law, contact a Crystal Lake employment law attorney today. Our firm helps many northwest suburban employees and businesses in towns like Rolling Meadows, Crystal Lake, Arlington Heights, Inverness, Deer Park, Palatine, and Barrington.
About the Author: Attorney Ken Apicella is a founding partner of DGAA focusing in the areas of personal injury, employment, insurance coverage disputes, and civil litigation. Ken earned his J.D. from DePaul University College of Law in 1999. He has been named a SuperLawyers Rising Star and a Forty Illinois Attorneys Under Forty to Watch. Ken has written and lectured for the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education and regularly serves as a moderator at Northwest Suburban Bar Association's Continuing Legal Education seminars.