Illinois Pregnancy Discrimination Law

Beginning January 1, 2015, the Illinois Human Rights Act (“Act”) now prohibits pregnancy discrimination. Private employers (i) having 15 of more employees within Illinois during 20 or more calendar weeks within the calendar year of or preceding the alleged violation, and (ii) any person employing one or more employees when a complainant alleges pregnancy discrimination will be covered by the new law.

Under the Act, pregnancy means being pregnant, childbirth or medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth. An employer cannot make adverse employment decisions (e.g. hiring, firing, discipline) based on an employee’s status of being pregnant. It is also unlawful to retaliate against an employee who requests, attempts to request, uses or attempts to use a reasonable accommodation under the Act.

If an employee requests a reasonable accommodation under the Act, the employer must provide it unless the employer can show that it would cause an “undue hardship” in the ordinary operation of the business. The Act provides a list of reasonable accommodations that can be provided to any employee. An “undue hardship” means an action that is prohibitively expensive or disruptive based on factors set forth in the Act. The employer bears the burden of proving that an accommodation creates an undue hardship. The concepts of “reasonable accommodations” and “undue hardship” have been in place for quite some time under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The ADA may prove a useful guide for issues that arise under the Act.

Employers are required to post notices in the workplace and also in employee handbooks concerning an employee’s rights under the Act. The Illinois Department of Human Rights (“Department”) has a standard notice published on its website that employers could use at work.

The Act contains more details and imposes other obligations upon employers. Employers will soon face a myriad of questions from employees seeking accommodations under the Act. For additional information about the Act or if you have any questions about the Act’s requirements, please contact Donald S. Rothschild or Brian M. Dougherty.

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