Governor signs bill to protect pregnant women in workplace

Gov. Pat Quinn today announced he has signed a landmark new law that will fight the widespread but often overlooked practice of discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace. The law provides job protections for pregnant women and requires that reasonable accommodations be made in the workplace so expectant mothers can continue working without fear for their health or the health of their child.

“Women should not have to choose between being a mother and having a job,” Quinn said. “This new law will provide important protections and accommodations for working mothers-to-be so that they can continue to provide for their family without risking their health or the health of their child. These common-sense accommodations will provide peace of mind, safety and opportunity for moms-to-be and also help strengthen our workforce across the state.”

“This bill is simply common sense,” Director of Equal Opportunity at Women Employed Melissa Josephs said. “A woman should not have to choose between a healthy pregnancy and supporting her family. Many people thought that this was already the law. Now, fortunately, they’re right.”

House Bill 8, sponsored by state Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, and state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Chicago Heights, provides pregnant women with important worker protections such as limits on heavy lifting and assistance in manual labor; access to places to sit; more frequent bathroom breaks; time off to recover from childbirth; and break space for breast-feeding.

Studies have shown that, despite existing protections, pregnant women are too often forced out of their jobs and denied reasonable job modifications that would enable them to continue working.

The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2015.

“Every woman deserves to be respected and protected, and no woman should have to hide her pregnancy for fear of losing her job because she is pregnant,” Flowers said. “No woman should have to choose between losing her baby and or losing her job because the employer failed to make reasonable accommodations. Many of these women are disproportionately low income and single parents in need of their jobs. House Bill 8 creates a broad responsibility for employers to reasonably accommodate pregnant employees, which is no different than any other accommodations being made for anyone else with a health issue.”

“Continuing to work during pregnancy, along with a quick return to work afterward, is very important for working mothers and their families,” Hutchinson said. “The reality is that for many Illinois families, women are the primary breadwinners and they should never have to choose between the ability to continue to provide for their families and a healthy pregnancy.”

Since the last time pregnancy workforce protections were addressed at the federal level in 1978, the number of women who work during pregnancy has continued to rise at a high rate. According to a report issued in 2013 by the National Women’s Law Center, nearly two-thirds of first-time mothers continue to work while pregnant and the majority of those work into their last month of pregnancy. Unfortunately, as the number of pregnant women working has increased so have the number of pregnancy discrimination cases filed. A study by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shows that, from 1992 to 2011, charges of pregnancy discrimination filed increased 71 percent.

“This legislation is especially important for low-income workers, who typically have the most physically demanding jobs and are least likely to have access to maternity leave and sick time,” Wendy Pollack, director of the Women’s Law and Policy Project at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, said. “Women can’t afford to lose their jobs, along with their income, seniority, and their employer-provided health insurance, or put their pregnancies at risk, due to the denial of a reasonable accommodation.”

The Governor also today signed House Bill 5563, sponsored by State Representative Kelly Burke (D-Evergreen Park) and State Senator Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), to amend the Equal Pay Act to centralize all complaints and investigations of women workers who fail to receive equal pay for equal work because of their gender. The new law allows the Illinois Department of Labor to refer complaints of alleged violations of the Equal Pay Act to the Illinois Department of Human Rights to help avoid confusion and centralize discrimination investigations. House Bill 5563 goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2015.

Illinois’ Equal Pay Act prohibits employers with four or more employees from paying unequal wages to men and women doing the same or substantially similar work, requiring equal skill, effort, responsibility and under similar working conditions. The law protects both men and women, and any individual who files an equal pay complaint is protected under the Act from harassment or retaliation. If an employer is found guilty of pay discrimination, they will be required to make up the wage difference to the employee and may be subject to pay legal costs and civil fines of up to $2,500 per violation.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Illinois women still earn just 78 cents of every dollar earned by Illinois men based on the median weekly earnings of full-time workers. The law was enacted to help close the wage gap between men and women. Since its implementation the law has successfully recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages for women who were paid less than their male co-workers for doing the same work, which is prohibited under the Act.

Governor Quinn has been committed to protecting and empowering women in Illinois since taking office. Last month, the Governor signed legislation to include a referendum asking voters if Illinois health insurance plans should be required to cover prescription birth control on the November 4 General Election ballot, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision.

In his 2014 State of the State address, the Governor announced the launch of a Birth to Five Initiative to expand access to prenatal care, early care and learning opportunities for every child. He also proposed a minimum of two days of earned sick leave per year for 2.5 million Illinois workers, 78 percent of whom are women, who have no sick leave.

 

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