The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption for U.S. businesses of every size and in every industry. As state and local governments have ordered companies to cease nonessential operations and directed consumers to quarantine, isolate or otherwise “shelter in place,” the very survival of many of today’s businesses depends on their abilities to develop new operational and business strategies for addressing changing consumer needs, altered distribution channels and a depressed economic market.
On December 4, 2019, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law amendments to the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (Illinois Cannabis Act) that clarify employer rights to enforce reasonable workplace drug policies once recreational marijuana use becomes legal in Illinois on January 1, 2020. As originally drafted, the Illinois Cannabis Act created confusion for employers as to whether they could lawfully test and/or discriminate against applicants who tested positive for cannabis, based on pre-employment and off-duty use of the drug.
On September 24, 2019 the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a revised Final Overtime Rule increasing the minimum salary threshold for overtime exemption to $35,568. The Final Overtime Rule takes effect on January 1, 2020.
The DOL’s Final Overtime Rule increases the weekly salary threshold for minimum wage and overtime exemption under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) from $455 to $684 (an increase in the annual minimum salary from $23,600 to $35,568). The Final Overtime Rule also increases the minimum annual exemption salary threshold for highly compensated employees (HCEs) from $100,000 to $107,432.
On July 23, 2019, the Chicago City Council passed the controversial Chicago Fair Workweek Ordinance (the Ordinance). Once Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a vocal proponent of the Ordinance, signs it into law, the Ordinance is scheduled to take effect for the majority of covered employers on July 1, 2020.
Board awards in unfair labor practice cases are usually premised in a make-whole remedy which, in the case of back-pay awards for example, include interest. Interest has been part of the remedy for decades. More recently, daily compound interest became the rule. The Board can reset the rate quarterly using the short-term federal rate plus three percent, which is the rate the IRS uses for underpayment of taxes. For several years, the rate was three or four percent, given the state of the economy. Interest awards can really add up, especially when a make-whole remedy impacts a large workforce and interest accrues over the many years it can take for final decision in a ULP case. As such, interest is normally a factor in litigation and settlement of these cases.
Illinois is now the second state to require that employers provide unpaid bereavement leave to eligible employees under its Child Bereavement Leave Act. This Act provides that employers with at least 50 employees must provide two weeks (10 working days) of unpaid leave due to the loss of a child. In the event of death of more than one child in a 12-month period, an employee is eligible for up to six weeks of bereavement leave.
The Act defines “employers” and “employees” in the same manner as they are defined under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Thus, an employee will be eligible for child bereavement leave under Illinois law if the employee has been employed by the employer for at least 12 months and has worked at least 1250 hours during the previous 12-month period. However, an employee who has exhausted his or her FMLA leave is not eligible for child bereavement leave under this Act.
While an employee’s eligibility for child bereavement leave is tied to the employee’s FMLA entitlement, the employee’s bereavement leave cannot be deducted from the employee’s available FMLA leave. In other words, an employee can take two weeks of bereavement leave and still be eligible for 12 weeks of FMLA leave for another qualifying event.
The Act defines “child” as “an employee’s son or daughter who is a biological, adopted, or foster child, a stepchild, a legal ward, or a child of a person standing in loco parentis.”
An employee may use bereavement leave to:
- Attend the funeral or alternative to a funeral of a child;
- Make arrangements necessitated by the death of the child; or
- Grieve the death of the child.
Employees must take such leave within 60 days after the date on which they receive notice of the death of the child. Employees who wish to take bereavement leave must provide 48 hours’ advance to their employer, unless providing such notice is not reasonable and practicable.
Employers may require that an employee provide reasonable documentation, such as a death certificate, a published obituary, or written verification of death, burial, or memorial services from a mortuary, funeral home, burial society, crematorium, religious institution, or government agency.
Substitution of Paid Leave
Under the Act, employees may elect to substitute paid leave, including family, medical, sick, annual, or personal leave, that is available pursuant to federal, state, or local law, a collective bargaining agreement, or employment policy. Unlike FMLA provisions, the right to substitute paid leave rests with the employee and the Act does not provide any right to the employer to require an employee to use available paid leave.
Retaliation and Enforcement
An employer may not retaliate or take any other adverse action against any employee who:
- Exercises rights or attempts to exercise rights under this Act;
- Opposes practices which such employee believes to be in violation of the Act; or
- Supports the exercise of rights of another under this Act.
If an employee feels that his or her rights have been violated under this Act, he or she may file a complaint with the Illinois Department of Labor or file a civil action in court within 60 days after the date of the violation.
An employer who violates this Act is subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $500 for the first offense and not to exceed $1,000 for the second offense.