CHICAGO – Pregnant workers are getting some relief
as more states pass legislation to prevent discrimination in the workplace in addition
to providing accommodations during their pregnancy.
Illinois specifically enacted a law that became
effective Jan. 1, 2015 – the Pregnancy Accommodation
Act. Illinois was recently joined by Colorado in passing such legislation that
went into effect Aug. 10.
Legislation in Illinois, like Colorado, looks at
protecting pregnant women by finding employers in violation for failing to provide reasonable accommodations
for pregnant women or denying women employment if they are pregnant. Under the new
law, employers can also be found in violation for forcing accommodations when they are not
requested, forcing leave if reasonable accommodations are not available, and
failing to reinstate an employee to her original position or an equivalent
position upon return from maternity leave.
“The intended impact of the legislation is to help
women remain in the workforce through pregnancy and childbirth and to help
close the pay gap - or at least stop it from growing - based on women being
forced to leave the labor market and re-enter it later, having lost any
increases in pay during their time out of work,” Sara P. Yager, partner at Laner Muchin, Ltd. told the Cook County
states have created similar legislation to protect pregnant women. In all of
these states, the legislation offers some sort of reasonable accommodation such as longer and
more frequent bathroom breaks, time off for doctor visits, longer and more
frequent rest breaks, lighter duty positions or a temporary transfer
“Depending on the state, 'reasonable accommodations'
vary, and most statutes have 'safety valves' for employers to deny an
accommodation if it is going to cause an undue hardship to the employer,” said
Yager. “However, in reality, the undue hardship test is not an easy standard
for employers to meet.”
While the Pregnancy
Accommodation Act became effective nearly 21 months ago, some employers may not
be aware of its full details and what reasonable accommodations may mean to an
employee who is pregnant.
“I think many employers
are aware that they cannot discriminate against pregnant employees,” said
Yager. “However, I do not think many employers, especially ones operating
without a robust human resources department, are necessarily aware that
Illinois passed a law specifically about pregnancy discrimination and
Since the inception of the Pregnancy Accommodation
Act in Illinois, it’s hard to measure what the effects it has had for pregnant women,
and anecdotal experience, I’ve heard of many employers using the new law as an
educational tool for their operational teams, who may be more focused on
running the business, to learn about the goals of their human resources teams, who may be more focused on acquiring and retaining talent, and how the teams
can work together to align those goals when interacting with pregnant
applicants and employees,” Yager said.
Yager said employers can operate under the new act in a variety of ways, from enacting new evaluative policies and
procedures to having proactive management. But, according to Yager, it starts
with a complete shift in mindset.
instance, instead of starting with the question of 'How do I run a business
when this employee is pregnant and is, inevitably, going to be off work,' try
starting with 'This person is pregnant and a great worker – how can I retain
her,'” said Yager. “Often, this mindset shift leads to employers thinking more
about creative, mutually agreeable ways to reasonably accommodate pregnant