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Numerous new laws will take effect on January 1, 2015. Some are effective immediately. Two of the new laws impact employers directly. One involves the rights of pregnant workers and amends the Illinois Human Rights Act in that regard. The second involves the use of criminal histories during the job application/interview process. All employers should review their employee handbooks and policies to ensure compliance with these new laws.

Pregnancy Rights
HB8 amends the Illinois Human Rights Act. The Bill provides that with respect to employment, it is a civil rights violation for an employer to refuse to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee for conditions related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, if she so requests, with the advice of her health care provider. It provides that the term "reasonable accommodations" means actions which would permit such an employee to perform in a reasonable manner the activities involved in the job or occupation including an accessible worksite, acquisition or modification of equipment, job restructuring, and modified work schedule. It further provides that the reasonable accommodations shall be undertaken provided that those actions do not impose an undue hardship on the business, program, or enterprise of the entity from which the actions are requested. The Act provides that it is a civil rights violation for an employer, with respect to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related condition:

  1. not to make reasonable accommodations, if so requested, unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the ordinary operation of the business of the employer;
  2. to deny employment opportunities or benefits to or take adverse action against an otherwise qualified job applicant or employee;
  3. to require a job applicant or employee to accept an accommodation that the applicant or employee chooses not to accept; or
  4. to require an employee to take leave under any leave law or policy of the employer if another reasonable accommodation can be provided.

It provides that it is a civil rights violation for an employer to fail to post, keep posted, or fail to include in any employee handbook information concerning an employee's rights under the Act, a notice, to be prepared or approved by the Department of Human Rights, summarizing the requirements of the Act and information pertaining to the filing of a charge, including the right to be free from unlawful discrimination and the right to certain reasonable accommodations. It also provides that it is a civil rights violation to retaliate against a person because he or she has requested, attempted to request, used, or attempted to use a reasonable accommodation. This law is effective immediately.

Ban the Box
HB5701 makes Illinois the fifth state to prevent private employers from checking an applicant’s criminal history until the final round of job interviews. The Bill creates the “Best Candidate for the Job Act”. It provides that an employer may not inquire into or require disclosure of a job applicant's criminal record or criminal history before the candidate has been notified that the candidate has been selected for a job interview or has been offered a conditional offer of employment. The Act requires consideration of the nature and gravity of a candidate's conviction record, the time elapsed since the conviction, and whether the conviction has a direct bearing on the candidate's fitness before excluding a candidate. Exceptions include positions where employers are required to exclude applicants with certain criminal convictions from employment due to federal or State law. The Act authorizes civil remedies and provides that the Department of Labor may impose penalties for violations. Also, the Act excludes public employers from its scope. The Act is effective January 1, 2015.

For more information, please contact Joseph Spitzzeri, Co-Chair of Johnson & Bell's Employment group.