Earlier this week, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a new law that is intended to prevent workplace discrimination against pregnant women by offering guidance on reasonable accommodation measures that all employers in the state are expected to follow.
Starting Jan. 1, 2015, Illinois employers with one or more employees are required to provide reasonable accommodations to any pregnant workers. House Bill 8, first introduced in September 2013, passed the state House unanimously in May, following Senate amendments.
Women should not have to choose between being a mother and having a job, Quinn said. This new law will provide important protections and accommodations for working mothers-to-be so that they can continue to provide for their family without risking their health or the health of their child.
The common-sense accommodations, according to Quinn, include worker protections to limit heavy lifting, manual labor restrictions, providing a stool to sit on when needed, more frequent bathroom breaks, leave to recover after childbirth and a private area for breastfeeding.
Last month, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offered comparable enforcement guidance on how employers can reasonably accommodate pregnant workers. The enforcement agency said its new rules combine the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
But, according to Scott C. Fanning, an attorney in Fisher & Phillips Chicago office, most employers do try to accommodate pregnant employers in these ways. At the same time, Fanning cautions that the new laws broad stroke of coverage on all employers with at least one employee could fuel worry among certain organizations, as many will have to update their policies to meet the new state requirements.
This would cover a much larger group of employers, perhaps employers who are not used to dealing with the reasonable accommodation framework that is being laid out, Fanning tells EBN. It does create some uncertainty just because it does require reasonable accommodation for not just medical conditions related to pregnancy, but also any condition related to pregnancy.
Employers do have some say when it comes to the accommodations, should they prove to be a burden, but the guidance is vague. To deny an accommodation, they have to show that it would cause undue hardship on the ordinary operations of the business, Fanning explains. Unfortunately, it gives some guidance but its very vague on how you would meet that standard.
Meanwhile, as the Supreme Court is expected to hear Peggy Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., a case that examines the issue of workplace discrimination against pregnant women, President Barack Obama has lobbied for Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act without delay. Similar pregnancy rights provisions are also gaining ground at the state and municipal level. Since 2013, Maryland, New York, N.Y., New Jersey, West Virginia, Philadelphia, Pa., Providence, R.I and Delaware have implemented or are expected to implement similar employee-rights laws.
I think well see continued movement on this front at the state and municipal level because its an issue that people are paying attention to, says Emily Martin, vice president and general counsel at the National Womens Law Center. Legislators are seeing that this is a real problem for a lot of pregnant workers, and that it has a common ground solution.
According to Martin, the good thing about the Illinois law is that it makes it crystal clear that employers have an obligation to accommodate their pregnant employees.
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