September 19, 2014
By Adam Dauksas
Effective January1, 2015, Illinois school districts must begin providing reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees who request them. In an expansion of pregnant employees’ rights beyond what is provided under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), the Governor signed into law House Bill 8 late last month, which amends several sections of the Illinois Human Rights Act.
This state law will soon make it a civil rights violation for an employer, after a job applicant or employee (including a part-time, full-time, or probationary employee) requests a reasonable accommodation, to not make such an accommodation for any medical or common condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. Where the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on its normal operations, however, the accommodation need not be made. The law provides examples of what a “reasonable accommodation” in this instance might be:
- More frequent or longer bathroom, water, or rest breaks.
- Private non-bathroom space for breastfeeding.
- Assistance with manual labor.
- Light duty.
- Temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position.
- A part-time or modified work schedule.
- Appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations.
- Time off to recover from conditions related to childbirth.
- Unpaid leave.
In addition, the law makes clear that school districts will also be prohibited from denying employment opportunities or benefits to, or taking adverse action against, a pregnant employee if the denial or adverse action is based on the need of the district to make reasonable accommodations. Further, districts will not be able to require a pregnant employee to accept a reasonable accommodation when she did not request one, nor can a district require an employee to take leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided. Moreover, under the law, school districts will not be allowed to retaliate against an employee because she requested, attempted to request, used, or attempted to use a reasonable accommodation.
Lastly, school districts will be required to provide notice to their employees concerning these new rights at a conspicuous location on the district’s premises where notices to employees are customarily posted and in any employee handbook. The Illinois Department of Labor will prepare the notice documents and make them available on its website.
Should your district have any questions about these changes in the law, including what might constitute an “undue hardship,” please do not hesitate to contact Scariano, Himes and Petrarca, Chtd.