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Illinois enacts Pregnancy Fairness Law, making pregnancy a protected status for all companies

The law mirrors the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act but applies to all employers

If your company has employees in Chicago or elsewhere in Illinois, then listen up: Your labor and employment policies may need to change following the implementation of the state’s Illinois Pregnancy Fairness Law.

The Illinois Pregnancy Fairness Law, which officially went into effect on Jan. 1, is an amendment to the Illinois Human Rights Act and provides workplace protections to all pregnant mothers, no matter the company’s size. The law makes it illegal to discriminate against applicants and employees on the basis of pregnant status, and it also requires companies to provide an accommodation for pregnant employees unless doing so would cause an undue hardship to the company’s operations.

While the Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, as part of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, already covers pregnant workers, the Civil Rights Act only applies to employers who have 15 or more employees. Thus, this new statute is particularly of interest to small companies — and the in-house lawyers or outside counsel who serve them.

However, there are some questions that remain to be answered. For instance, Amy L. Blaisdell, a labor and employment lawyer with Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale in Illinois and Missouri, tells KSDK-TV that exactly which women are covered under the statute may be a question that is challenged in court.



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“The law protects individuals who are pregnant, or have experienced childbirth, or have other medical or common conditions associated with pregnancy or childbirth. And that's a big question mark, as to what does that mean—does that protect a woman who's not yet pregnant but trying to conceive?” Blaisdell says.

She also notes that the law stipulates that companies cannot force employees to accept an accommodation that they do not agree to, which could create trouble if the employee then takes the company to court over not providing a “reasonable” accommodation.

The new law comes as the Supreme Court is set to rule in Young v. UPS. In that case, former United Parcel Service (UPS) delivery driver Peggy Young claims that UPS discriminated against her when it refused to accommodate a doctor-prescribed lifting restriction. In response, Young was forced to take unpaid leave and lost medical coverage. UPS says that its accommodations were applied fairly to all employees and do not cover off-the-job medical conditions.

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Zach Warren

Zach Warren is Assistant Editor of InsideCounsel magazine, where he oversees online content submissions and administers InsideCounsel's enewsletters. Zach specializes in new media and multimedia...

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