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The Scope of Workplace Protections For Pregnant Employees In Illinois Under The IHRA

Updated: Aug 11, 2021

The Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”) protects Illinois employees by prohibiting certain categories of discrimination in the workplace.

Effective January 1, 2015, The Pregnancy Discrimination and Accommodation Amendment (“the Pregnancy Amendment”) added protections against pregnancy discrimination to the IHRA.

As a brief overview, the Pregnancy Amendment requires certain employers to post notices, update their employee handbooks and provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees.

What is a pregnant employee?

But what is a “pregnant” employee? This may seem like a silly question, but the Pregnancy Amendment defines pregnancy broadly to mean (1) pregnancy, (2) childbirth, or (3) medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth. Thus, because the scope of coverage extends to conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth, it stands to reason that in some instances protections will be afforded to women who are no longer "pregnant" (i.e., those experiencing a post-labor condition).

The Legislature Intended To Protect All Pregnant Employees, Not Just Those Employees With High-Risk Pregnancies

The legislative history of the Pregnancy Amendment provides some guidance on the scope of protections afforded by the Pregnancy Amendment. For example, an April 10, 2014 House floor debate transcript clarifies that the legislature intended that the Amendment apply to all pregnancies, not just high-risk pregnancies. A copy of the transcript is linked. (See pages 112-129 for relevant discussion).

Additionally, the May 20, 2014 Senate floor debate further illuminates the intent behind the “common conditions” language:

SENATOR RIGHTER: So I get what a medical condition is, but, in this context, what do you mean by common condition?

SENATOR HUTCHINSON: A common condition are [stet.] those things that are commonly known to be a condition of pregnancy, such as the need to go to the bathroom more frequently or the need to drink water more frequently. (May 20, 2014 Senate Transcript at page 115)

45 out of 50 U.S. States Provide Some Level Of Workplace Protection AgainstDiscrimination To Pregnant Employees

Regarding protections afforded to pregnant employees outside of Illinois, the U.S. Department of Labor provides information on its website. Per the U.S. DOL, 45 out of 50 states provide some level of workplace protection to pregnant employees. The site is a good source for links to other state legislation and cases on this topic. However, some of the information provided by the U.S. Department of Labor on its website is not accurate and no one should rely on the website for legal advice.

In addition to the Pregnancy Amendment, various federal statutes provide additional protections to Illinois employees under certain circumstances, including Title VII, the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

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