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New Illinois Law Expands Employment Rights For Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence


August 27, 2009

By: William R. Pokorny

Originally enacted in 2003, the Illinois Victim's Economic Security and Safety Act ("VESSA") provides certain protections to employees who are, or whose family or household members are victims of domestic or sexual violence. Among other things, VESSA prohibits discrimination against such employees, requires employers to provide them with reasonable accommodations, and allows them to take up to 12 weeks of statutorily protected leave.

Effective August 24, 2009, Public Act 96-0635 amends VESSA by, among other things, extending the law's coverage to smaller employers and expanding the definition of "family or household member" so that more employees are covered by the Act. A chart summarizing the major changes to VESSA is provided below.

All Illinois employers with 15 or more employees are strongly advised to familiarize themselves with VESSA’s new requirements and ensure that their policies and procedures comply with the amended law.

For questions regarding VESSA, please contact William R. Pokorny or any Franczek Radelet attorney.

P.A. 96-0635: Summary of Key Changes to the Victim's Economic Security and Safety Act

Covered Employees: Covers employees who are victims of domestic or sexual violence, or who have a "family or household member" who is a victim of such violence. "Family or household member" includes only an employee's spouse, parent, son, daughter, or any person who jointly resides in the same household. The definition of "family or household member" is expanded to include any person related by blood, or by present or prior marriage, and any other person who shares a relationship through a son or daughter.
Covered Employers: Covers all public employers, and private employers with 50 or more employees. Private employer coverage expanded to employers with as few as 15 employees.
Amount of Leave: Employees of covered employers may take up to 12 weeks of leave during any 12-month period for a qualifying reason. Employees of covered employers with 15-49 employees are limited to 8 weeks of leave during any 12-month period.
Substitution: Provides that employees must be allowed to substitute available paid or unpaid leave, including family, medical, sick, annual, personal, or similar leave, for VESSA leave. Does not prohibit employers from requiring employees to substitute other available leave for VESSA leave. Prohibits requiring employees to substitute other paid or unpaid leave, meaning that employees may elect to take their 8 or 12 weeks of unpaid VESSA leave, plus any other leave available to them under the employer’s policies.
Reasonable Accommodation: Requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations absent undue hardship, "including adjustment to job structures, workplace facility, or work requirement, including transfer, reassignment, or modified schedule, leave, a changed telephone number or seating assignment, installation of a lock, or implementation of a safety procedure" in response to an actual or perceived threat. Requires reasonable accommodations to be made "in a timely fashion," and requires temployers to consider "any exigent circumstances or danger facing the employee or his or her family or household member" in determining whether an accommodation is reasonable. The list of accommodations deemed reasonable is expanded to include "assistance in documenting sexual or sexual violence that occurs in the workplace setting or in a work-related setting."
Employee Notice: Requires employees to provide employers with at least 48 hours' advance notice of their intention to take leave, unless providing such notice is not practicable. Provides that employers who fail to post the Illinois Department of Labor's mandatory poster may not rely on an employee’s failure to provide the required notice to deny leave.

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