Employers in Illinois will have to provide many benefits to same-sex partners under the new state law that legalizes civil unions. The law allows any two people to enter into a civil union that is legally recognized by the state as entailing the same responsibilities, benefits and protections as marriage. An Illinois civil union can be between a man and a woman, or between two people of the same sex.
The Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act was signed into law by Governor Pat Quinn on January 31, 2011.
In practical terms, employers will need to provide many benefits to straight, gay or lesbian partners in a civil union beginning on June 1, 2011, when the Illinois civil union law goes into effect. On that date, employers must provide the same benefits to the partner of an employee in a civil union, as the employer provides to spouses of married employees. In particular, an employer who provides group health insurance coverage from an outside company, must provide the same coverage at the same price for employees in a civil union, as for married employees.
There are two notable exceptions to coverage under the law, according to attorney Theresa Essig with Fischer & Phillips law firm. First, an employer who is self-insured need not provide coverage to civil union partners, even if they provide coverage to spouses. Second, the law specifically allows religious organizations to make their own decisions about which dependents to cover.
Any other benefits provided to employees under state law, such as paid vacations and sick leave, will have to treat married spouses and partners in civil unions the same.
Ms. Essig adds that final regulations have not yet been written, so there may be changes in these policies. Her assessment is based on the impact of similar legislation in other states. Currently gay and lesbian couples are allowed to marry (more…)
Beginning on January 1, 2011, Illinois employers will be limited in performing credit checks on employees and applicants. On that date, the Employee Privacy Act goes into effect. Hawaii and Oregon also have laws that limit the use of credit reports in background checks, while other states are considering them.
The new credit check law prohibits employers from ordering a credit report on an applicant or employee, and from asking about credit history, although the law includes a number of loopholes that will apply to many exempt management employees.
Employees or applicants can sue an employer who violates the law, and may be awarded damages, relief, court costs and attorney’s fees.
An employer can still perform credit checks on an applicant or a current employee if the business can establish that good credit is a bona fide job qualification. In order to do so, the individual must involve one or more of the following: (more…)
On July 1, 2010 the Illinois minimum wage will increase by 25 cents, from $8.00 to $8.25 per hour. The law applies to employers with 4 or more workers, excluding family members. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour applies to employers with 3 or fewer workers. By law, any employee covered by both the federal and Illinois minimum wage laws must be paid the higher rate.
Several exceptions to the law permit an Illinois employer to pay some workers less than the state minimum wage, usually an “optional rate” that is 50 cents per hour less. Youths under the age of 18 can be paid just $7.75 beginning July 1, 2010. Employees over the age of 18 can be paid $7.75 during the first 90 days of employment, as a “training wage.”
The new minimum wage for tipped employees is $4.95 per hour, an increase of 15 cents from the previous rate of $4.80 per hour. If the tipped employee does not average $8.25 per hour in tips and wages over the payroll week, the employer must pay the difference. A tipped employee under the age of 18, or in the first 90 days of employment, can be paid (more…)
The good news for employers is that most state minimum wages are holding steady in 2010. In January 2009, more than a dozen states increased their minimum wages. In 2010, only a few minimum wage changes are in effect.
The Kansas minimum wage increased from $2.65 to $7.25 on January 1, 2010. This is the first time in more than two decades that the Kansas minimum wage has increased. The change comes after more than a decade of efforts by Kansas Democrats. On December 31, 2009, Kansas had the lowest minimum wage of any state. Effective today, X states have lower minimum wages.
To be fair to Kansas, five states have no minimum wage whatsoever. They are Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee and South Carolina.
In an unprecedented step, the Colorado minimum wage actually decreased by 4 cents from $7.28 per hour to $7.24 per hour today. Most employees in the state are still covered by the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
About a dozen states annually increase the minimum wage based on the cost of living. However, in most areas the cost of living has shown a decrease of 1% to 2%. While many state statutes prevent the minimum wage from being reduced, they have not been increased.
Expanded Leave Rights
Every Illinois employer needs to be aware of an amendment to the Illinois Victims Economic Security and Safety Act. The new law requires employers to extend unpaid, job-protected leave to victims of domestic violence or sexual violence.
Under the new law, effective August 24, 2009, employers with 50 or more workers must provide up to 12 weeks of FMLA-type leave to employees who are victims of rape, sexual assault or another type of sexual violence. The law requires employers with 15 to 49 employees to provide 8 weeks of unpaid leave.
Employers must also extend the same benefits to victims of domestic violence of any kind.
This new law is notable because Illinois has no family leave law at the state level – so this is the state’s first intrusion into expanding FMLA to smaller employers. Currently, there is no Illinois law that requires an employer with 15 to 49 workers to provide leave for any reasons other than sexual violence or domestic violence.
New Illinois Discrimination Law
Under a new Illinois discrimination law, victims of stalkers, domestic violence and other crimes are protected from employment discrimination. The amendment to the Illinois Human Rights Act prohibits the employer from discriminating against an employee who is protected by an order of protection or a similar order issued in anther state.
Under the law, which goes into effect on January 1, 2010, the employer cannot make employment decisions based entirely or in part on whether a worker is shielded by an order of protection. For example, the employer could not refuse to hire Jane, a teacher, simply because she has an order of protection against her ex-husband Ted. (more…)