While COVID-19 has us all scrambling to find a sense of “normal” in the workplace nowadays, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of other issues that can have a significant impact on our businesses. As you may remember, January of this year brought about quite a few changes to employment laws, and resulted in a large number of businesses having to update their employment policies. Well, the same thing happened a couple months ago in July! Don’t forget about these important employment laws that are currently affecting your business.
The minimum wage has increased to $10 per hour as of July 2020, and is scheduled to increase again in January 2021 to $11.
Small Businesses Now Liable for Discrimination
As a general rule under the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA), employers are prohibited from unlawfully discriminating against employees on the basis of their protected class status. These classes include things like race, nationality, age, etc. But the definition of employer was always limited to those who employ fifteen or more people. So small businesses with fewer than fifteen employees were not held liable for actions that would have otherwise been considered discrimination at the state level.
That is now no longer the case. The new definition of “employer” under the IHRA is any person employing one or more employees within Illinois during twenty or more calendar weeks within the calendar year of or preceding the alleged violation. So, small business owners should be very careful going forward and review their policies on hiring, firing, promoting, etc. Consult with an attorney before taking employment actions against your employees if you otherwise haven’t had to deal with these sorts of issues in the workplace before. The last thing you want is to have the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) contact you about a discrimination claim.
Disclosure of Discrimination Information
If the liability for discrimination itself isn’t a big enough concern, consider that starting July 1, employers are required to annually disclose information about all adverse judgments or administrative rulings against them in the preceding year, and how many of each are in particular categories (sexual harassment, racial discrimination, etc.).
Employers may also be required to disclose the number of settlements from the preceding five years that relate to sexual harassment or unlawful employment practices 1) if they occurred in the workplace or 2) involved the behavior of an employee or corporate executive, regardless of whether it occurred in the workplace. Even further, employers might also need to disclose what categories the settlements fall into.
Hotel and Casino Employee Safety Act
This brand new act requires hotels and casinos to equip employees who work alone in guest rooms, restrooms, or casino floors with a safety or notification device (i.e. panic button) that will summon help if the employee reasonably believes that an ongoing crime, sexual harassment, sexual assault, or other emergency is occurring in the employee’s presence.
Chicago Fair Workweek
A big change is coming up soon for Chicago employers – it’s called the Fair Workweek Ordinance. At its core, the ordinance is an effort to make sure that employers provide employees with sufficient notice of the hours they are required to work.
Not all businesses are subject to the ordinance, though. “Covered Employers” who must comply with the ordinance are those that meet the following criteria:
- Globally employ 100 or more employees (or 250+ for nonprofits), 50 of whom are “Covered Employees”
- Said “Covered Employees” make either less than or equal to $50k/year or less than or equal to $26/hour
- Engaged in certain industries including Building Services, Healthcare, Hotels, Manufacturing, Restaurants, Retail, and Warehouse Services
Prior to commencement of employment, employers must provide prospective employees with a good faith estimate of the employee’s projected days and hours for their first 90 days of employment.
Further, employers must provide employees with written notice of their work schedules at least 10 days in advance (and this requirement will increase to 14 days starting July 1, 2022). Failure to provide proper notice will result in the employer having to pay penalties such as an hour of “predictability pay” or half of the pay an employee would’ve earned for that day (depending on things like whether the employer cancelled a shift, changed hours, and how short of notice the employer gave to the employee regarding the change).
Employers who are subject to a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) are not responsible for complying with portions of the ordinance that conflict with the CBA. But it is important to note that CBAs entered into after July 1, 2020 must clearly waive the ordinance requirements using “clear and unambiguous terms.” Failure to do so may lead to being held responsible for any non-compliance.
Does COVID-19 Have an Effect?
As with most things – it depends. Chicago is not delaying enforcement of the ordinance; however, the city has allowed for an “out” in certain cases. Back in May, the city published a new rule stating that the ordinance’s provisions regarding schedule changes will apply as normal unless a pandemic has caused an employer to “materially change its operating hours, operating plan, or the goods or services provided by the Employer, which results in the Work Schedule change.”
Interestingly enough, the rule is written in such a way to where it applies in the event of any pandemic, for which COVID-19 does qualify. This leaves open the possibility that in the event of a similar outbreak happening in the future, businesses will have some possible relief from the requirements of the ordinance.
However, it is inadvisable for businesses to make a quick decision on whether their business practices have “materially” changed or not. Choosing to not comply with any law is very significant and, when analyzed incorrectly, has the potential for serious consequences. We highly advise speaking with an attorney prior to claiming this exemption under the new city ordinance.
Should you have any questions about recent employment laws, or any other laws that may affect your business, or would like to schedule an initial consultation, please contact Waltz, Palmer & Dawson, LLC at (847) 253-8800 or contact us online.
Waltz, Palmer & Dawson, LLC is a full-service law firm with various areas of service to assist your business, including: Employment Law, Intellectual Property, Commercial Real Estate, and general Business Law services. Individual services include Estate Planning, Wills and Trusts, Probate, Guardianship, Divorce and Family Law.
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