By ELIZABETH DONALD
The Illinois AFL-CIO recently issued clarifications on what the state’s new paid leave law means for union workers.
Senate Bill 208 passed the state legislature in early January and is expected take effect on Jan. 1, 2024, assuming the governor signs it. It requires all employers to provide employees with a minimum of 40 hours or five days’ paid leave per year that can be used for any reason.
Most union workers already receive at least this level of paid leave, but now Illinois law will bring all workers under the protection of being able to take time off work for family emergencies or other needs without losing pay. Illinois will be the third state to require paid leave for all workers, after Maine and Nevada.
Workers’ rights groups have hailed its passage of both sides of the legislature.
“No one should ever be faced with having to decide between their job, family or their physical or mental health,” said Tim Drea, president of the Illinois AFI-CIO.
Gov. JB Pritzker has said he will sign the act. “Working families face enough challenges without the concern of losing a day’s pay when life gets in the way,” Pritzker said. “Every working Illinoisan knows that sometimes unavoidable circumstances prevent you from doing your job. However, for too long we have refused to accept this inevitability and penalized workers for dealing with family emergencies, broken down cars, or any of the other life complications we all face… I’m looking forward to signing this legislation and giving a safety net to hardworking Illinoisans.”
Under a fact sheet issued by Illinois AFL-CIO Coalitions Director Frances Orenic, the act covers all employers as defined under the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act and all units of state and local government, excluding school districts organized under the School Code and park districts organized under the Park District Code.
Other questions clarified by the AFL-CIO include:
• How do employees earn leave? An employee begins to accrue paid leave on the first day of employment at the rate of one hour of leave for 40 hours worked, up to a minimum of 40 hours of paid leave per year. Employers may “front-load” leave by allowing all 40 hours on the first day, and can provide more than 40 hours at their discretion.
• When can employee use paid leave? Employees can start using accrued leave on the 90th day of employment or 90 days after Jan. 1, 2024, whichever is later. Employers can offer the chance to use leave earlier.
• What restrictions are there on the purposed paid leave? None. Employees may use the personal paid leave for any purpose, and do not have to provide the employer documentation or reasons for the leave. Employees also can determine the amount they need, though employers may set a minimum increment no larger than two hours a day.
• Do employees need to provide notice? Yes, employers can require advance notice for foreseeable leave up to seven days in advance. If the need for leave is not foreseeable, the employee should provide notice as soon as possible.
• Can employees carry over accrued paid leave if it is not all used? Yes, any accrued and unused paid leave will carry over to the next 12-month period, up to 40 hours a year.
• Can you be paid out the remaining balance of unused leave when you quit the job? No, employers are not required to pay out the balance.
• Does this impact an employee’s right to be paid out for unused vacation time under Illinois’ Wage Payment and Collection Act? No. Employers are still required to pay out unused vacation time upon separation from employment.
• What is the rate of pay during paid leave? Employees must receive their normal hourly rate when on leave, including at least minimum wage for tipped employees. Employers also must maintain health insurance during that leave.
• Who is entitled to receive leave? Any employee working for an employer of any size, with a few exceptions that include independent contractors, students participating in work-study at university, and employees covered by certain collective bargaining agreements, as discussed below.
• Does the act impact collective bargaining agreements? It does not change any collective bargaining agreements in effect on Jan. 1, 2024, and the requirements of the act may be waived in future collective bargaining agreements.
• What about cities that already have these ordinances, such as Chicago? Anyone not covered by the local ordinance is covered by this act, and any ordinance enacted after Jan. 1, 2024 must provide at a minimum the same benefits as detailed in the act.
• Who enforces this law? The Illinois Department of Labor has the power to conduct investigations, issue subpoenas, conduct hearings and impose penalties for violations of the act. Failure to comply can subject an employer to $2,500 fine for each violation, damages to the employee including compensatory damages and attorney’s fees, and more actions.