By Kelly Youngblood
A new law went into effect January 1 that may allow pregnant women to take more bathroom breaks, put down those heavy boxes, and give them a private space to pump breast milk while at work.
The Pregnancy Accommodation Act, also known as The Pregnancy Fairness Bill, amends the Illinois Human Rights Act and provides that with respect to employment, it is a civil rights violation for any employers with at least one employee to refuse reasonable accommodations for any conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.
The term “reasonable accommodations” means actions which would permit such an employee to perform in a reasonable manner the activities involved in the job or occupation including accessible worksite, acquisition or modifications of equipment, job restructuring, and modified work schedule.
However, the law also states the reasonable accommodations cannot impose an “undue hardship” on the business.
Prior to the amended law, it was illegal to discriminate against an individual because she is or was pregnant.
But the revised bill adds the requirement for employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for pregnancy, similar to disability discrimination laws.
The list of reasonable accommodations is long and may include but is not limited to “more frequent or longer bathroom breaks, break for increased water intake and breaks for periodic rest; private no-bathroom space for expressing breast milk and breastfeeding; seating; assistance with manual labor; light duty, etc.”
Lorna Geiler, an attorney at Meyer Capel in Champaign who concentrates her legal practice in employment and labor law, said historically an employer could not terminate a woman because she is pregnant.
“However, the employer could insist that she take a leave of absence as a result of limitations placed on her by a pregnancy and if that resulted in her running out of leave either under a company policy or the FMLA she could then be terminated,” Geiler said.
“This amendment actually requires an employer to offer other reasonable accommodation to the employee before insisting on time off. So, things like light duty may now be required for a pregnant employee when historically, they were not. It also prohibits an employer from terminating an employee who has been on a leave of absence, even if that leave of absence is more than she would otherwise be entitled to under applicable law or company policy,” Geiler added.
Amanda McCall was six months pregnant when she was hired at Target in Champaign and says she felt very comfortable with the way she was treated by her co-workers.
“All the team members and managers were vary caring and allowed me to take bathroom breaks anytime I needed and encouraged me to take breaks if I was cashiering. If I were to need a private place to pump I was offered to use the manager’s office or any of the offices I felt comfortable in,” McCall said.
Thanks to the new law, it’s possible all businesses in Illinois will offer expectant mothers similar treatment.
For a comprehensive list of the law’s requirements, go here.