7 Steps Illinois Employers Should Take Based on Key Developments

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Illinois employers should take into account that several new developments have hit the Land of Lincoln that will have a significant impact on workplace policies, practices and procedures. What’s more, it’s not just the state of Illinois that has enacted laws affecting the workplace, but Chicago and Cook County as well.

Here are 7 steps Illinois employers should take based on the many legislative developments.

1. Update Leave and Benefit Policies

The state of Illinois, Chicago and Cook County are all following the trend when it comes to expanding leave and benefit rights for employees and permitting them to take time off for legitimate reasons.

Illinois employers should be sure to update their leave and benefit policies and provide comprehensive training to employees and supervisors based on the following developments:

• Expanded personal sick leave benefits;
• Increased protections for domestic violence victims; and
• Paid sick leave in Chicago and Cook County.

Expanded personal sick leave benefits under the Illinois Employee Sick Leave Act permit employees to use sick leave benefits to take time off for an illness, injury or medical appointment of the employee’s child, spouse, sibling, parent, mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandchild, grandparent or step parent.

Under an amendment to the state’s Victims Economic Security and Safety Act, all employers may be required to provide domestic violence leave to an employee when the employee or a family member is the victim of domestic or sexual violence. The time employees may be permitted to take within a 12-month period depends on the size of the employer.

Chicago and Cook County go beyond state law regarding paid sick leave. The Chicago Minimum Wage and Paid Sick Leave Ordinance, as well as the Cook County Earned Sick Leave (ESL) Ordinance, require covered employers to provide eligible employees with up to 40 hours of paid sick leave. Both took effect July 1, 2017.

Affected employers should make sure to know the parameters of each law and how time is accrued, plus requirements regarding eligibility, notice, documentation and recordkeeping.

2. Provide Reasonable Accommodations

The Illinois Human Rights Act prohibits an employer from engaging in discrimination based on many protected classes including religion. An amendment to the law prohibits employers from imposing any term or condition of obtaining or retaining employment that requires an employee or applicant to violate a sincerely held religious practice. This includes the wearing of any religious attire, clothing or facial hair unless, after engaging in the interactive process, the employer demonstrates that it would be an undue hardship to reasonably accommodate the individual’s sincerely held religious belief.

However, an employer may enact a dress code or grooming policy that restricts attire, clothing or facial hair in order to maintain workplace safety or food sanitation.

3. Respect Online Privacy Rights

Illinois employers should be aware that the Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act protects the social media privacy of employees and job applicants. Specifically, an employer may not request or require an individual to provide information, such as a user name and password, which would enable the employer to access a personal online account or website. It also may not retaliate against an employee or applicant for failing to provide such information.

The law does contain some protections for an employer. For instance, an employer may be able to request such information when investigating work-related misconduct or the unauthorized transfer of the employer’s proprietary or confidential information or financial data.

4. Be Aware of Upcoming Minimum Wage Increases

Employers should be cognizant of the upcoming minimum wage hikes in Cook County and Chicago. On July 1, 2018, the minimum wage in Cook County will increase to $11 per hour while Chicago’s will be $12 per hour. On July 1, 2019, Cook County’s minimum wage will increase to $12 per hour while Chicago’s will rise to $13. On July 1, 2020 Cook County’s minimum will be $13 while Chicago’s will be adjusted for inflation.

5. Exercise Care When It Comes to Restrictive Covenants

Illinois employers should be aware that the Illinois Freedom to Work Act prohibits employers from requiring low wage employees earning $13 per hour or less to sign a covenant not to compete as a condition of employment, and any such restrictive covenant will be declared null and void.

6. Deduct More from Employee Paychecks

The Illinois Department of Revenue has implemented changes reflecting the income tax increase approved by the state legislature. Lawmakers recently raised income taxes for individuals from 3.75% to 4.95%. The corporate tax has been increased from 5.25% to 7%. The change is retroactive to July 1, 2017.

7. Get Ready for Possible Salary History Ban

Illinois may be the next state to join the rapidly spreading trend to combat wage discrimination by prohibiting employers from inquiring about salary history during the recruiting and hiring process. The lllinois state legislature recently passed an amendment to the Equal Pay Act, which now awaits the Governor’s signature. The amendment prohibits an employer from:

• Screening job applicants based on wage or salary history;
• Requiring that an applicant’s prior wages satisfy minimum or maximum criteria;
• Requesting or requiring the disclosure of prior wages or salary as a condition of being interviewed or as a condition of employment; and
• Requiring an employee to sign a contract or waiver prohibiting the employee from disclosing or discussing information about the employee’s wages.

If enacted, employers should provide training to all supervisors and managers with recruiting and hiring authority to ensure they understand the parameters of the new law and comply.



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