As an employer in Chicago, Illinois, the decision to lay off an employee on pregnancy leave involves navigating complex legal considerations. Two key laws, the Illinois Human Rights Act and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, safeguard pregnant employees from discrimination and provide leave rights.
Illinois Human Rights Act
The IHRA prohibits pregnancy-related discrimination and mandates reasonable accommodations unless an undue hardship is posed. It protects employees throughout various employment categories and ensures fair treatment regarding hiring, promotions, accommodations, etc.
Family and Medical Leave Act
The FMLA is a federal law offering eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons, including the birth and care of a newborn child. Employers must maintain health insurance during this leave.
Can you lay off an employee on pregnancy leave?
Perhaps, but it can be legally problematic. While both the IHRA and FMLA provide substantial protection to pregnant employees, absolute job security is not guaranteed. Employers may lay off an employee on pregnancy leave under specific circumstances.
Layoffs due to legitimate business reasons
If the layoff stems from legitimate, non-discriminatory business reasons, such as economic downturns or restructuring, it might be permissible. Essential considerations include treating pregnant employees equally, not using pregnancy or leave status as a layoff criterion and offering a chance to return if a position becomes available within a reasonable time. Though, the economic considerations and issues must be documented, and if the only employee affected is the pregnant employee, proving the decision is non-discriminatory becomes much harder.
Layoffs due to undue hardship
An employer may lay off an employee on pregnancy leave if accommodating or retaining the employee poses an undue hardship. Assessing undue hardship involves factors like accommodation cost, business size, financial resources, operational impact and alternative options. Engaging in an interactive process with the employee and documenting efforts are crucial.
Compliance requirements for layoffs
Even if layoffs are based on legitimate reasons, compliance with IHRA and FMLA requirements is essential. Provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees, unless an undue hardship exists. Avoid discrimination or retaliation against pregnant employees seeking accommodations, like immediately firing them or laying them off when they request leave.
Apply consistent criteria for layoff selection, refraining from using pregnancy or leave status as a basis. Notify employees of their IHRA and FMLA rights and obligations. Permit the use of accrued paid leave or benefits during the layoff. Offer the opportunity to return to work if a suitable position opens within a reasonable timeframe post-layoff.
Laying off an employee on pregnancy leave is a nuanced decision requiring careful evaluation of reasons and circumstances. Employers must ensure compliance with IHRA and FMLA to avoid legal ramifications.