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Samantha Hare, Assistant Equal Opportunity Officer, Office of Acess and Equity (OAE)
This August, Governor Quinn signed into law an amendment to the Illinois Human Rights Act that adds as a protected class “pregnant women who are temporarily limited in their abilities to perform their work functions because of pregnancy, childbirth, or conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth” (Public Act, 98-1050 http://legiscan.com/IL/text/HB0008/2013). Nearly 50% of all workers in Illinois are women, and of those, 54% are of childbearing age. The amendment aims to provide this population with various protections and reasonable accommodations, with the goal of increasing worker productivity, retention, and morale.
This amendment to the Human Rights Act, like the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, prohibits discrimination in employment based on pregnancy or childbirth. Examples of unlawful discrimination can include an employer’s refusal to hire a pregnant employee, segregating the pregnant employee from non-pregnant employees, or failure to promote an employee or renew her contract due to pregnancy.
Notable in the amendment is the requirement to accommodate pregnant employees. Before the amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act was the only law that provided for accommodations for pregnant women and only when their pregnancy complications were so severe that they resulted in a disability. The protections in the amended Human Rights Act apply to all pregnant women, including those experiencing uncomplicated pregnancies. Examples of accommodations in the legislation include more frequent or longer bathroom breaks, breaks for increased water intake, breaks for periodic rest, a private non-bathroom lactation space, assistance with manual labor, light duty, a temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, or a modified work schedule.
An employer may require that an employee requesting an accommodation for pregnancy or childbirth provide limited medical documentation supporting the request. The employee only needs to give the medical justification for the requested accommodation, a description of the requested accommodation, the date the accommodation became medically advisable, and the probable duration of the requested accommodation. The employee and the employer must then engage in the interactive process to determine an accommodation that works for both management and the employee. The burden, however, falls upon the employer to show undue hardship (i.e. prohibitively expensive or disruptive) if it wishes to deny the request for accommodation. Additionally, the employer cannot force the employee to accept an accommodation or force the employee to take leave.
The amendment to the Human Rights Act will go into effect on January 1, 2015. This change in the law will impact operations at the department and college level at the University. All requests for pregnancy and childbirth-related accommodations should be made or forwarded to OAE. Like reasonable accommodation requests made under the Americans with Disabilities Act, OAE will engage in the interactive process with the employee and department or college. Feel free to contact OAE with any questions regarding the new law or accommodation process.
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