Yesterday, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich signed a bill that will ban smoking in almost all workplaces throughout the state effective January 1, 2008. With the bill, Illinois joins 16 states that have already made smoking illegal in the workplace.
Non-smokers hail this as a seminal event for the health and well-being of workers, while smokers see it as a further erosion of their first amendment right to “the pursuit of happiness.” The law is aimed at preventing employees from being exposed to second-hand smoke at work.
Under current Illinois law, smoking is legal in factories, warehouses and similar places of employment that are not usually open to the public. Smoking is currently acceptable in casinos, bars and private clubs. Also under the current regulations, a group or individual can rent a private room in a banquet hall or restaurant and permit smoking. Under the new law, all of that will change in January. The law will specifically ban smoking sections of bars and restaurants. It also closes a loop-hole that permitted smoking in private homes where a day-care center is operated.
The new law will NOT ban smoking in private, enclosed offices where all the workers smoke, even if non-smokers must visit the offices on occasion. Critics point to this as a major flaw in the law. The law also permits smoking in retail stores that derive at least 80% of their revenue from the sale of tobacco products. Smoking will still be permitted in enclosed personal spaces, such as private homes and personal vehicles, and in specifically designated hotel rooms.
Critics also argue that the penalties under the new law are too low, with fines of $100 to $250 to individuals for violations. Fines for businesses that violate the law start at $250.
An important feature of the new law prohibits smoking within 15 feet of any entrance or exit door in the workplace. The current Illinois Clean Indoor Air Act contains no such provision. The sight of workers braving sub-zero winter temperatures to smoke outside the door of an office or shop is very common. Workers and customers must frequently walk through a cloud of smoke blanketing the entrance, to gain access to a restaurant, store or office under the current system.
Under the Illinois Clean Indoor Air Act, smoking has been banned in most public places in the state for a number of years. That includes smoking in any indoor area used by the public, or as a place of work, including hospitals, restaurants, retail stores, offices, elevators, theaters, libraries, art museums, concert halls, schools, nursing homes, auditoriums and meeting rooms. The current law provides for smokers to be fined up to $500 for a first offense. Anyone who persists may be found in contempt of court and imprisoned for a short time, as well as fined.
The current Illinois Clean Indoor Air Act does allow for smoking in areas that are specifically posted as “smoking areas” including some areas of restaurants, bars and nursing homes. The act originally made exceptions for a number of businesses, including bowling allies, and bars. All of these areas will become off limits to smokers under the new law.
A number of counties and municipalities already have laws that prohibit smoking. Cook County, the home of Chicago and 43.3% of the state’s population, bans smoking everywhere except designated rooms in hotels and nursing homes. The county does permit municipalities to “opt out” by allowing smoking in designated sections of restaurants and bars in Rosemont and a few other areas. Other Illinois cities outside Cook County, including Normal, Illinois have banned smoking in all workplaces, even restaurants and bars.
States that currently have 100% smoking bans in workplaces include Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Washington. These states prohibit smoking in public and private workplaces regardless of size. They do not allow smoking in separately ventilated rooms in offices, factories or warehouses. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico also has such a law. South Dakota has a similar law, but does permit smoking sections in restaurants or bars.
In addition, at least 340 municipalities nationwide ban smoking in the workplace, from Anchorage, Alaska to Laramie, Wyoming. Some of these bans permit smoking in separate sections of restaurants and bars, while most do not.
Employers in Illinois, you have 20 days after a new person starts working for you to report that new hire to the proper state authorities. Sound like some form of Big Brother watching over you. Hardly. If, you loyal readers, you have been reading my blog as of late, you know that the new hire reporting in Illinois—and in every state in the land—is required for a couple reasons.
The first reason is to help track unemployment insurance fraud: i.e., say a gentleman is claiming unemployment in Missouri but is actually working in Illinois and is thus pulling in two paychecks. He wouldn’t fall through the cracks of the interstate employment system in the United States, because the new hire labor law would track him down.
Same goes for the other reason for the change to the labor laws surrounding new hire reporting. The second purpose for the National Directory of New Hires, and the directory set up by the Illinois Child Support Enforcement, is to catch parents who are either late on or unwilling to pay their child support payments. It used to be these people could flee to another state, say from Missouri to Illinois, get a new job in Illinois, and live “happily ever after” without paying child support. Not any more with the labor laws on new hire reporting.
That’s because the new labor laws make it so that employers have to be more organized than ever when it comes to facts about new employees. Within those 20 days mentioned before, employers have to send to the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services: the employee’s name, the new employee’s address, the new employee’s social security number.
No employer is exempt from this rule, and it includes all forms of employees—full time, part time, temporary and re-hires.