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The Illinois Human Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating against their employees on the basis of “pregnancy.” Effective January 1, 2015, the Illinois Human Rights Act defines “pregnancy” as “pregnancy, childbirth, or medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth” and now specifically prohibits employers from:

  1. refusing to make reasonable accommodations, if requested by an applicant or employee, for pregnancy unless the provision of the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s ordinary operation;
  2. taking any adverse action against or denying employment opportunities or benefits to a pregnant applicant or employee due to the employer’s obligation to make reasonable accommodations for the condition of “pregnancy”;
  3. requiring a pregnant applicant or employee affected by pregnancy to accept an accommodation when the applicant or employee made no request for any accommodation and refuses the accommodation; and
  4. requiring an applicant or employee to take a leave of absence provided by law or policy if another reasonable accommodation can be provided by the employer.

As amended, the law now specifically defines the terms “reasonable accommodation” and “undue hardship.” Reasonable accommodations for pregnancy may include: more frequent or longer breaks; providing time and a private, non-bathroom space to express breast milk; physical accommodations such as seating, modified work equipment, and assistance with manual labor; modified or part-time work schedules or even job restructuring; and leave.

Under the new law, employees who do take leave for “pregnancy” have the right to be reinstated to their prior or equivalent position with equivalent pay and with no loss in benefits or seniority. Prior to providing any accommodation—including leave—employers may request documentation from the employee’s health care provider concerning the need for the accommodation as long as the employer’s request for documentation is job-related and consistent with business necessity.

Importantly, employers are not required to create any employment as an accommodation or to discharge, transfer, or promote any unqualified employee to make requested accommodations, unless they would be required to do so for other classes of individuals in need of the accommodation. All of these requirements and the procedure for filing a complaint must be posted by the employer and/or incorporated in the employee handbook.

Contact Cindi DeCola or John DiJohn with your employment discrimination inquiries.