Effective January 1, 2015, Illinois women will enjoy greater protections under the law because of the Illinois’ Pregnancy Fairness Act. By amending the existing Illinois Human Rights Act, this new law has made pregnancy a protected class.
Pregnancy is now a protected class
As defined in the statute, "pregnancy" means "pregnancy, childbirth, or medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth." See775 ILCS 5/1-103(L-5). Thus, the Act covers not only the gestation period but also the period following childbirth.
Generally, the Act makes it illegal to discriminate in hiring and employment against pregnant workers and those affected by a medical or common condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. 775 ILCS 5/2-102(I). While employers will be required to provide a broader range of accommodations to pregnant employees including assistance with manual labor, an employer can refuse to accommodate an employee where it can show that doing so presents an undue hardship on the ordinary operations of the business. See775 ILCS 5/2-102(J). Perhaps, one of the most radical departures from existing law is the notion that the required 12 weeks of leave under the FMLA may not be sufficient under the Pregnancy Fairness Act; under this new schema, existing FMLA and ADA requirements may be the floor rather than the ceiling.
This applies to you
While other federal laws like the FMLA have varying requirements depending on the size of the employer, this Act does not. There is no exemption under the Pregnancy Fairness Act for employers with fewer than 50 employees.
Men Need Not Apply?
Notably, since the Act discusses these rights through the lens of pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions, the Act does not appear to expand the protections given to expectant fathers. While additional protections for men as well as women would seem to be within the spirit of the Act, whether men are covered remains a largely open question and, likely, will be the subject of litigation in the future.
For tips on how to comply and more information regarding the changes, click here.