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Illinois Employment Law: Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Workers

New laws were enacted in Illinois pertaining to pregnancy and employment. The “Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act” (P.A. 98-50) amends the Illinois Human Rights Act. (775 ILCS 5/2-102) that previously touched upon this area. This blog post will discuss how reasonable accommodations are addressed under the current law.

Most people know that employers cannot hire, fire, segregate, select for training, promote, etc. based on pregnancy. What most people don’t know, however, is that an employer must reasonably accommodate a pregnant employee, unless it places an undue burden on the employer. In this case, the pregnant woman has the burden of asking for the accommodation. It is actually not recommended that the employer take the initiative to offer accommodations without the request being made.

To argue that an accommodation is an undue burden, the employer must show that the accommodation requested is “prohibitively expensive or disruptive,” considering the following factors:

(1) The nature and cost of the accommodation needed;

(2) The overall financial resources of the facility or facilities involved in the provision of the reasonable accommodation, the number of persons employed by the facility, the effect on expenses and resources, or the impact otherwise of the accommodation upon the operation of the facility;

(3) The overall financial resources of the employer with respect to the number of its employees, and the number, type, and location of its facilities; and

(4) The type of operation or operations of the employer, including the composition, structure, and functions of the workforce of the employer, the geographic separateness, administrative, or fiscal relationship of the facility or facilities in question to the employer.

Examples of “reasonable accommodations” include the following:

(1) More frequent or longer bathroom breaks;
(2) Breaks for increased water intake;
(3) Breaks for periodic rests;
(4) Private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk and breastfeeding;
(5) Seating;
(6) Assistance with manual labor;
(7) Light duty;
(8) Temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position;
(9) The provision of an accessible worksite;
(10) Acquisition or modification of equipment;
(11) Job restructuring;
(12) A part-time or modified work schedule;
(13) Appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, training materials, or policies;
(14) Reassignment to a vacant position;
(15) Time off to recover from pregnancy; and
(16) Leave necessitated by pregnancy.

In response to a request for accommodations (remember, the request has to be made by the pregnant person, not the employer), then the employer can ask for documentation from the employee’s doctor under the following circumstances:

(1) The employer also requests similar documentation for conditions related to a disability;
(2) The request is job-related and consistent with business necessity; and
(3) The request is limited to information concerning:

(i) The need or medical justification for the requested accommodation;
(ii) A description of the reasonable accommodation medically advisable;
(iii) The date the reasonable accommodation became medically advisable; and
(iv) The probable duration of the reasonable accommodation.

Unfortunately, this is a grey area of the law and human resources. It is best to consult an attorney before dealing with this issue if one is expected to arise or there is the potential it could arise.

"This blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. It is recommended that you speak to an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction before relying on the information in this blog."

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