Ban the Box

Joining the current “Ban the Box” trend, effective January 1, 2015, the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act prohibits Illinois employers from asking job applicants about their criminal record or criminal history until after the employer determines that the individual is qualified for the position and notifies the individual that s/he has been selected for an interview.  If an employer does not conduct interviews, then any inquiry into an applicant’s criminal background cannot take place until after the employer makes a conditional offer of employment.

The Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act applies to all employment agencies and private employers with 15 or more employees in the current or preceding calendar year.  In light of this new legislation, Illinois employers with multi-state locations or branches should review any “national” or uniform job applications, especially those completed via the internet.

IHRA Amendment: Pregnancy Fairness

Also effective January 1, 2015, the Pregnancy Fairness Law amends the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) by including pregnancy among the currently protected classes. The new law makes it a civil rights violation for an employer to refuse to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee for “pregnancy, childbirth, or medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.”  This law applies to all employers and all probationary, part-time and full-time employees.  The law does not appear to extend to expectant or new fathers.

More specifically, the amendment protects women who are pregnant or have recently given birth by giving them a right of action if an employer:

  1. denies employment to pregnant applicants;
  2. fails to accommodate where the accommodation does not pose an undue hardship;
  3. takes adverse action against the employee for exercising her right to request a reasonable accommodation;
  4. forces a pregnant woman to accept unrequested accommodations;
  5. forces leave when reasonable accommodations could be provided; or
  6. fails to reinstate the employee to her original or equivalent position, pay, seniority, and benefits.

Despite these new protections, an employer is not required to create a new job for an eligible employee, transfer the employee, or promote an employee unless the employer would do so for other classes of employees who need accommodations.  Given these new protections, any management level employees who administer accommodation requests of employees should be trained on this amendment and how to best respond to pregnant women’s requests for accommodations.

In addition to any necessary training, employers should also be aware that this amendment contains posting requirements and handbook updates.  The Illinois Pregnancy Rights Notice may be found on the Illinois Department of Human Rights’ website here.

Chicago, Illinois Minimum Wage Increase

The Chicago City Council passed an Ordinance approving a minimum wage increase.  Effective July 1, 2015, the minimum wage will increase from $8.25 per hour to $10.00 per hour and will incrementally increase each subsequent year as follows:

  • $10.50 per hour effective July 1, 2016;
  • $11.00 per hour effective July 1, 2017;
  • $12.00 per hour effective July 1, 2018; and
  • $13.00 per hour effective July 1, 2019.

Starting on July 1, 2020, the minimum wage will increase automatically each year.  The increase will be based on the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers, with a cap of 2.5%.  However, if Chicago’s unemployment rate is 8.5% or higher in any given year, then there will be no minimum wage increase the following year.

The increase only applies to those employers that employ at least one covered employee and (1) maintain a business facility within the geographic boundaries of the City and/or (2) are subject to any Chicago license requirements.  A covered employee is any person who, while physically present in the City of Chicago, in any particular two-week period, performs at least two hours of work for an employer.

Employers should be aware that this Ordinance also contains posting requirements.