Springfield Business Journal Articles
Sarah Delano Pavlik and Tom Pavlik write a monthly column on legal and business issues for the Springfield Business Journal.

Their columns will be added here each month after publication.
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2003 was a busy year for the Illinois Legislature, especially regarding issues in the workplace. Major new legislation, largely favoring the rights of employees, became effective in late 2003 and as of January 1, 2004. Everyone should become familiar with these new laws or risk litigation or the loss of his or her rights.

First, and perhaps most significantly, in August 2003 Governor Blagojevich signed into law legislation increasing the minimum wage. Under the legislation, Illinois employees over age 18 will see their minimum wage increased to $5.50 an hour effective January 1, 2004 and to $6.50 an hour in January 2005. Employees under the age of 18 may be paid fifty cents less an hour, but in no event may they be paid less than the federally prescribed minimum. In addition, the new law prohibits employers from firing employees over the age of 18 for the purpose of replacing them with new employees under the age of 18.

Second, effective August 25, 2003, Illinois enacted the Victims' Economic Safety and Security Act (“VESSA”). The law provides for job-protected leaves of absence, as well as other protection and benefits, for employees who are domestic violence victims and their family or household members whose interests are not adverse to the victim. VESSA allows employees who provide proper notice and certification to take leave to: (1) permanently or temporarily relocate; (2) seek medical or psychological attention; (3) obtain victim services; (4) participate in safety planning or other actions to increase the safety of the victim; or (5) seek legal assistance or remedies to ensure the victim's safety, including time off for civil or criminal hearings. The law applies to private employers who have more than 50 employees. The leave, which is unpaid, can be up to 12 weeks within a 12-month period. The law also mandates that employers must post a notice concerning employees’ rights under VESSA, and further prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who exercise their rights under VESSA, or discriminating against employees or applicants who are perceived as being victims of domestic violence. Finally, VESSA obligates employers to provide reasonable adjustments to an employee’s job structure, the physical workplace, or other work conditions (e.g., transfer, reassignment, modified schedule, change in telephone number or lock installation) to accommodate a domestic violence situation.

Third, effective January 1, 2004, all employment applications must have language which states that the applicant is not “obligated to disclose sealed or expunged records of conviction or arrest.” In addition, the law reiterates that an employer may not ask if any such records were sealed or expunged - - something that is already prohibited under Illinois law. However, under this new provision, I strongly urge all employers to review their applications and revise them if necessary.

Fourth, and again effective January 1, 2004, Illinois employers may no longer contract for temporary workers with any agency that is not registered with the Illinois Department of Labor. The Department may subpoena records to monitor compliance. A list of registered agencies can be found at http://state.il.us/agency/idol/listings/dlagency.htm. In addition, a companion law prohibits employers from using temporary agencies as a method for replacing striking or locked-out employees.

Fifth, and once again effective January 1, 2004, Illinois enacted the Equal Pay Act. This new law prohibits an employer from paying unequal wages to men and women for “the same or substantially similar work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions.” Exceptions include seniority, merit systems, and quantity or quality of production factors. Although similar to existing Federal law, the Illinois version extends to more employers and employees, and also provides employees with additional time within which to pursue violations. This law also prohibits an employer from discriminating against any employees who ask about, disclose or discuss their own, or another’s, compensation.

Sixth, and also effective January 1, 2004, a new law prohibits employers from preventing employees from disclosing information to a governmental agency regarding violations of the law. Employers are also prohibited from discriminating against such “whistle blowers” and may not retaliate against employees who refuse to participate in activity that would result in the violation of any law.

Seventh, and of particular importance for those who contract with the State, is the Illinois Prohibition of Goods from Forced Labor Act. This act, again effective January 1, 2004, states that, except for public works contracts, contracts entered into by the State for the procurement of goods must specify that any foreign-made goods under the contract were not produced by forced, convict or indentured labor. A knowing violation of this law may result in the contract being voided, the contracting business being suspended from doing business with the state, and the imposition of substantial penalties. The statute leaves silent how your business is supposed to ascertain this information. Proceed at your peril, or even better, buy American.
Posted in: January, 2004
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