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Illinois Law Aims to Protect Pregnant Women in the Workplace

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A new law protecting pregnant women and new mothers at work took effect this week in Illinois. Governor Pat Quinn signed the Illinois Pregnancy Fairness Law last August, which aims to protect women who are experiencing or expecting pregnancy-related conditions from negative consequences at their jobs, as well as help them find new work opportunities.

“This is a landmark bill that will end a common but often overlooked form of workplace discrimination and make Illinois a better place for our moms-to-be,” Governor Quinn declared when the bill was signed.

The new law entitles expecting and new mothers to additional break time, lifting restrictions and leave time for pregnancy or related issues. Businesses also must supply non-bathroom space for breastfeeding and transfers to less strenuous positions. The law also seeks to help women find work while pregnant and to keep them safe from discrimination at their current job, or during the application process.

"The law creates pregnancy as a protected classification under Illinois law," said Amy Blaisdell, a labor and employment attorney in who practices in Missouri and Illinois. "That means women who are pregnant who are applying for jobs or who are employed in the state of Illinois, private employers included, are protected from discrimination as well as retaliation for requesting accommodation."

While the majority of business owners are happy to accommodate mothers, some questions have come up in regards to the new law. Since the law applies to all employers, regardless of the business size, some employers are questioning how it will affect their workers and business. Some worry that the system will be abused and businesses will take a hit when having to provide for those women who are unable to work.

“As a small business owner, I have to pay them through all of the days of their pregnancy, even if they can’t perform their duties,” said Eric Wortham, a pizzeria owner in metro-east Illinois. “What if the employer is fast-food place or a restaurant like us and there is no place for them to sit? How does that work? What if they would have to sit there all day?”

The new law, which protects employees when it comes to “conditions related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions,” does seem vague and open to interpretations—so is it what’s best for new and expecting mothers? Is it right to require businesses to compensate for work that can't be accomplished? Or do you think that this is a step in the right direction for women?


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