Illinois governor Pat Quinn (D) signed into law a bill last week that aims to fight workplace discrimination against pregnant women by requiring job protections and reasonable accommodations.

“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,” Quinn said in a press release. “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.”

Accommodations provided by HB 8 may include temporary changes for heavy lifting and manual labor, ensuring access to seating, frequent restroom breaks, time off following childbirth, and break spaces for breastfeeding. These accommodations are aligned with federal guidelines on pregnancy discrimination, as approved and updated in July.

Pregnancy discrimination complaints in the US increased by 71 percent between 1992 and 2011. Almost two-thirds of first-time mothers work while pregnant, including 90 percent of those mothers who work into their last two months of pregnancy. Many women nationwide, especially those in low-income jobs, are forced to take unpaid leave or leave their jobs altogether during their pregnancy.

“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,” said Wendy Pollack, the director of the Women’s Law and Policy Project at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, about the Illinois bill. “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.”

In addition to Illinois, several states and cities have taken action to fight discrimination against pregnant workers, including Delaware, New Jersey, Philadelphia and New York City. On the national level, The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which is currently stalled in Congress, would update and strengthen the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to ensure that pregnant women are not denied necessary accommodations at work.

Media Resources: Illinois Government News Network 8/26/14; Open States, 9/3/14; Feminist Newswire 10/2/13, 2/3/14, 7/16/14; Feminist Majority 10/31/13

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