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How to Have a Successful Open Enrollment This Year

Health benefits are important to everyone. Your employees need them for their well-being and you need healthy employees who want to stay and work for you. The benefits you offer show how important your employees are to you. Unfortunately, most employees don’t fully understand their benefits or what they cover. With open enrollment coming up, this is the perfect time to educate employees and make sure everyone in your organization is getting what they want out of their benefits plan.

In this post we’ll present:

  • Where knowledge about employee benefits breaks down
  • How employees get their information about their benefits
  • How you can make your open enrollment more effective

Where knowledge about benefits breaks down

Having good health benefits is crucial for being a working adult in the United States. And yet, most adults who have health coverage don’t fully understand it. A poll from Maestro Health showed that 35% – over one third! – of employees don’t fully understand their healthcare coverage, with some saying they know nothing about it. For something that is so expensive and that shapes so many Americans’ employment decisions, this is a concerning blind spot. That ignorance is not surprising given how complicated the medical coverage process can be.

Where open enrollment could be the perfect opportunity for educating employees so they can make good benefit decisions for a lifetime, it often ends up being a time for more confusion and quick, impulsive decisions to avoid digging deeper for information. If your employees have made plan choices that don’t benefit them or don’t do so efficiently, they are in for a whole year of struggling with insurance companies and providers. That can result in employees needing to spend more time away from work and possibly getting into debt from poorly managed healthcare costs. It’s also a miserable process for your employees to experience.

A survey from Aflac shows that 80% of employees say that their benefits package influences their engagement with their job. It also stated that 57% of employees would accept lower compensation in a job if it had better benefits. Clearly the confidence an employee has in their coverage is a very important part of their employment decisions, so anything you can do to make them more confident in the decisions they’re making will make you a more attractive employer.

How employees get their information

If employees don’t fully understand their benefits, where are they getting their information? The most trusted source for benefit information for most employees is another person. A recent survey from Colonial Life showed that, no matter what generation they are from, employees prefer to talk to a trusted person for their benefits information rather than going to a website. More often than not, that trusted person is an HR or Benefits professional, but it can also be family members, friends, or colleagues. The point is, when it comes to something as personal as discussing employee benefits, people prefer a human touch.

Make your open enrollment work better

How can your company make open enrollment the most helpful, educational, and productive time possible for you and your employees? There are a few things you can do to help make that experience work better for everyone.

Ask what employees want

Ahead of enrollment, ask your employees what they want from their benefits. This can be a general question posed to all employees, or a survey with specific questions on each benefits offering. You may find that your benefits program is either missing out on a needed area or is offering plans that aren’t relevant to your workforce. If you find a need for significant changes to your plans, you’ll want to start this process well before you kick-off the enrollment period.

Limit the bombardment of information

One possibly counterintuitive answer to solving the open enrollment puzzle is to limit the amount of information you’re giving your employees ahead of enrollment. This doesn’t mean keeping them deliberately in the dark about their options.

Instead, this means not bombarding employees with everything remotely related to their health benefits and all possible plan options. Without any guidance to prioritize that information, your employees will have no idea what’s relevant to them. This can be overwhelming for employees that are already stressed about picking the right plan options. Instead, start with general information that should apply to all employees. Explain confusing benefits terminology. Walk people through the process step-by-step. Remember that you’ll be educating your employees over time.

Make sure they have the basics

While having information from printed material and online is crucial, most employees don’t find this information useful when they have a question specific to their personal healthcare needs. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make this content available, just that it should be supplemented with other channels for benefits information. Make sure to provide all employees with:

  • A schedule for open enrollment, including all key dates and deadlines.
  • A statement of their current coverage.
  • Summaries, changes, and rates that are specific for each individual plan.
  • An open enrollment guide and forms.
  • Contact information for knowledgeable sources in HR/Benefits  for specific questions or additional help

Communicate all year long

You don’t want open enrollment to be the only time your employees think about their benefits and health coverage. Set a communications plan for letting employees know about changes, deadlines, and general information throughout the year. This can be tailored around changing seasons, birthdays, employee anniversaries, or any other signpost that’s a good time to examine and learn about their benefits. If learning about tackling advantage of their benefits is on your employee’s radar all year long, they’re going to be in a better position to retain what they learn and use that knowledge effectively during open enrollment season.

Let them know about non-traditional benefits

If your company offers non-traditional (more than standard medical) benefits, communicate that to your employees. Many companies are attracting top talent with benefits like tuition assistance or telehealth programs. If benefits like these are options during open enrollment, make sure your employees know about these offerings and help them sign up for what makes sense for them and their families.

Voluntary insurance is becoming more important to employees. These are policies that cover periods of disability, critical illness, or accidents where major medical insurance may not cover costs like deductibles or copays. Again, if this is something you offer your employees, this should be advertised to them along with guidance on how to sign up.

Use alternative modes of distributing information

Employees learn in a variety of ways, and sometimes benefit from multiple sources of information. Some companies use online articles forwarded via email; quizzes and contests on benefits information; brown-bag lunches with speakers; or town-hall meetings to field individual questions. You can schedule these throughout the year, increasing the amount of time people are actively thinking and learning about their benefit options.

Analyze what worked when you’re done

Once your open enrollment is over, take a hard look at what worked well for you and what didn’t. This is the perfect time to solicit feedback on how easy (or difficult) the process was, how accessible needed information was, and what people would like to see in the future. Similarly, check with your management and HR staff to see what could be done to make things easier for them for the next enrollment. Look at that feedback and figure out if the issues are with the processes for getting people informed and enrolled, or if there are bigger issues with the policies your company has available. Also look at your initial survey information to see if there are gaps or surpluses in what you offer currently. The best time to make changes in your plans is well before the next open enrollment.

Get a hands-on employee benefits broker

This entire process can be made much easier through partnering with a proactive, hands-on employee benefits broker. A great broker is knowledgeable about all the different employee benefit options available so they can build plans tailored to your workforce’s unique needs and effectively educate your teams to take advantage of those plans. This process is done through in-person education sessions (usually on-site), interactive webinars, and one-on-one phone calls with employees who may have specific questions.

Your next steps

There’s a lot your company can do to make open enrollment the most successful it can be:

  • Ask what employees want
  • Limit the bombardment of information
  • Make sure employees have the basics
  • Communicate all year long
  • Let employees know about non-traditional benefits
  • Use alternative modes of distributing information
  • Analyze what worked when you’re done
  • Work with a great employee benefits broker

Your employees will be happier knowing they have the right coverage. The sense that their employer is concerned about their health and well-being goes a long way as well. And employees with a well-fitting health insurance plan will also cost your business less in the long-run. Your employees are the most important asset your company has. More than that, they’re the people who want to make your company thrive, so help them engage with a benefits plan that allows them to thrive too.

Illinois Employers: What You Need to Know about the New Sexual Harassment Training Requirements

Illinois is seeing some big changes to anti-harassment training requirements for employers. Governor Pritzker signed Senate Bill 75, the Workplace Transparency Act, on August 9th, 2019. This bill amends the Illinois Human Rights Act to add sexual harassment training requirements, in addition to other changes to discrimination laws in the state.

The law is still being formalized by lawmakers, but this is a major accomplishment, as Illinois hasn’t seen laws quite like this ever before. This new bill comes after the Illinois Capitol in Springfield garnered scrutiny and criticism for sexual harassment and related “pervasive behavior,” as state senator Sue Rezin told the Chicago Tribune, particularly within Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan’s office.

The law is also a response to the entire #MeToo movement that picked up in 2017. According to a report from the National Women’s Law Center, 15 states have now passed new protections, including approximately 200 bills, which are related to protections against workplace harassment.

As these new regulations are going through the approval process, you’re now tasked as an Illinois employer with following updates and understanding what it means for the way you run your business. Here’s everything you need to know about the new requirements, some of which are still being hashed out.

Annual Training Requirement

The bill outlines that employers must give mandatory annual trainings on the following topics, beginning January 1st, 2020. The comprehensive sexual harassment training program has to include the following information:

  • Description and clarification of what sexual harassment is
  • Examples of sexual harassment conduct
  • Information about government provisions, such as what remedies are available to sexual harassment victims
  • Information about the employer’s responsibility to prevent, investigate, and correct sexual harassment

Guidelines for the Service Industry

The bill also outlines requirements for employers in the bar, restaurant, hotel, and casino sectors. Hotels and casinos must offer employees a way to alert security or managers with a portable notification device if they need help, are being harassed, or witness an instance of assault.

Bars and restaurants now must have a policy around sexual harassment that gives employees guidelines on how they can report allegations or file a charge with the state Department of Human Rights. These employers also must offer annual harassment trainings, specific to the industry, in both Spanish and English.

Other Provisions

The law also states that employers cannot require their workers to sign nondisclosure agreements or arbitration agreements that are related to harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.

In addition to protections for regular company employees, independent contractors are also protected from harassment and discrimination under the new law. As the gig economy is picking up, this is important, since companies are working with contractors and consultants more now than ever before. An NPR poll last year showed that one in five jobs in America is held by a contract worker.

The bill also sets out requirements for employers and labor organizations to disclose administrative or judicial decisions that are adverse regarding harassment or discrimination in the previous year to the Illinois Department of Human Rights. July 1st, 2020 is the first date of required disclosures, and will be required every July 1 thereafter.

What happens if you fail to comply?

The bill outlines penalties for employers that fail to comply with the new requirements. These include civil penalties of:

  • $500 if the company has less than four employees
  • $1,000 if the company has more than four employees

Repeat violations could be as much as $5,000 for each instance.

Key Takeaways

The bottom line is that Illinois may pass legislation that all employers, regardless of their number of employees, must provide sexual harassment training to each and every employee.

Key points to remember about the proposed bill are:

  • If the bill is finalized, training programs must be implemented beginning January 1st, 2020.
  • There are specific guidelines you must follow as an employer when implementing the harassment trainings, such as disclosing information about what harassment is and steps victims can take to report it.
  • Employers that are bars, restaurants, hotels, and casinos have additional guidelines to follow regarding the safety of their employees.
  • Employers cannot require workers to sign nondisclosure agreements related to harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.
  • Independent contractors are also protected under this law.
  • Penalty fees may apply if employers fail to implement the sexual harassment trainings.

Launchways is your trusted resource, always keeping you informed of upcoming changes related to compliance. Once the sexual harassment training requirements are solidified, we will offer a strategic solution to the training requirement.

How Diversity and Inclusion Drive Business Value and Profitability

You may already know how valuable diversity and inclusion (D&I) are to the satisfaction of your workforce and to your recruitment efforts and ability to retain top talent. But did you know that these important considerations can also pay off financially? And that D&I efforts can have a significant impact on your workforce’s productivity?

Many Finance leaders are catching wind, as Deloitte’s 2019 CFO Signals survey showed that two-thirds of finance heads from large companies said they now have a form D&I strategy in place at their organizations.

So, aside from D&I being top priorities for businesses because of the ethical and moral implications, it helps to recognize that there are additional benefits for the business’ bottom-line as well. In this post we’ll take a look at what the research shows about how D&I can help financial professionals drive business value and profitability.

Driving the value of your business

It’s now becoming common knowledge that a more diverse and inclusive workforce means stronger organizational performance. This can be broken down into several categories, including retaining talent, employee satisfaction and well-being, and greater workforce productivity.

Retaining talent. Workplaces that focus on D&I efforts and take steps to make employees feel more welcome tend to retain talent better than those that don’t. For example, a report from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation showed that 1 in 4 LGBTQ workers have stayed at a company because of an accepting environment. And it makes sense—employees who feel unrecognized and excluded are more likely to be unhappy with their job and ultimately, they will leave.

Employee satisfaction. On a similar note, it’s important to emphasize that welcoming workplace environments foster more satisfied employees. Modern workers want to work in environments that not only don’t discriminate, but that also encourage openness about differences.

Gone are the days when biases and discrimination are the norms in offices. Instead, creating inclusive, diverse environments drive business value because employees will be more fulfilled by the work they’re doing. An employee survey from Deloitte showed that there is a strong correlation between employees being happy at work and feeling valued by their company.

Greater productivity. More diverse teams tend to be more productive as well. The combination of differing perspectives make efforts more creative, and can open the eyes of team members to views they wouldn’t be able to otherwise see themselves. With more diverse skillsets, experiences, and ideas, organizations can produce and create in more innovative ways.

Increasing Profitability

In addition to creating a more valuable workforce, D&I efforts have proven to contribute to increased profitability businesses as well. Research from McKinsey & Company shows that companies that have more racially and ethnically diverse workforces are 35% more likely to have greater financial returns than industry medians, and those with greater gender diversity are 15% more likely to see better returns.

McKinsey data also shows that in the U.S., for every 10% increase in ethnic and racial diversity on the executive team, annual company earnings rise roughly 1%.

A more recent study from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) shows that companies with above-average diversity on their leadership teams have a 20% advantage in revenue from innovative products and services for their companies over management teams with below-average diversity. These improved financial results come from the varying perspectives and insights that diverse teams bring to the table.

Effective strategies for addressing D&I in your organization

Clearly, there is a strong business case for a more intentional and thoughtful approach to D&I at your business. Aside from the fact that employees will be more satisfied and fulfilled, the business will likely perform better financially.

The strategies outlined below will help you get started with your D&I initiatives and sustain your program’s success in the long-term.

1. Make sure the strategy is known throughout the company

A good first step in addressing D&I is ensuring that the entire company knows about your efforts and that it matters to you and the entire executive team. Less than half of respondents in the Deloitte CFO Signals survey indicated that their D&I strategy is known throughout the company, so there’s still plenty of work to do in this area.

Start by sending around an email on these topics, initiating regular trainings related to D&I, or bringing up issues during company-wide, as well as departmental-wide, meetings.

2. Set up a measurement technique

As with any company strategy, a measurement process will hold you accountable and ensure that goals are being met. Try implementing things like regular employee surveys, and actually measure your diversity stats. Consider, who is underrepresented in each department’s management team? Gathering this data will help you to measure if your efforts are actually working, and you can update your strategy accordingly.

3. Update your hiring approach

These efforts go hand-in-hand with your HR department and the company’s hiring policies. First make sure that D&I is fully integrated into the employee handbook and other policy documents. This will make it clear to employees that it is a serious matter that is given priority at your business.

Then, make sure that hiring and interviewing techniques support these important policies. For example, what kind of questions are being asked on applications? Or in interviews? You must ensure that every employee the conducts interviews understands what type of interview questions are and are not acceptable, especially when considering sensitive D&I topics.

4. Don’t be afraid to admit fault

Finally, as the CFO or head of finance, you help set the example for much of the company. Part of being a genuine leader and exuding integrity is admitting when something isn’t where it needs to be.

This means that if a diversity goal isn’t being met—for example, if the company executive team includes solely older white males—you might admit that this is something the company is working on addressing to integrate more diverse perspectives. Then, you can show your workforce the strategies you’re putting in place to fix things. These tactics show departments across the board that you take D&I seriously and that you’re actually following through on promises.

Good leaders know when to discuss a challenge area instead of pretending like no areas for improvement exist.

Key takeaways

D&I continues to drive high performance and profits for companies across industries. As a financial leader within your organization, it’s important that you realize the value D&I brings to any team, in addition to the steps you can take to make it happen.

Remember:

  • D&I helps increase business value by retaining talent, increasing employee satisfaction, and driving productivity.
  • Your bottom line will thank you for your D&I efforts, as more diverse workforces and executive teams mean more revenue and increased business profitability.
  • No matter the numbers, diverse perspectives bring invaluable expertise and viewpoints to teams to make them more creative and productive.
  • Implement D&I into your strategy by:
    • Distributing knowledge throughout the company
    • Setting up ways to measure success
    • Updating your approach to hiring and interviewing
    • Admitting there are areas for improvement within the organization and creating a plan to improve these areas

In addition to these key takeaways, remember to always remain open to change and thus open to the broad range of perspectives that can exist within your company. This viewpoint alone will help you to give D&I the time and attention it deserves.

Updates to What Employers Can Ask about Wage History in Illinois

The Illinois Equal Pay Act of 2003 has been amended, effective September 29, 2019, with updated guidelines on what employers can and cannot base hiring decisions on. Particularly, employers cannot make hiring decisions based on salary history of candidates. So, what does this mean, exactly, and what else did the amendment change?

No More Asking About Wage or Salary History

The amendment has prohibited Illinois employers from doing the following when going through the hiring process:
• They cannot screen candidates or applicants based on their prior wage or salary history, or their current compensation. This includes benefits. They cannot require this information to be disclosed or have minimum and maximum criteria for hiring.
• They cannot request wage or salary history as a condition for employment consideration while an applicant is being interviewed.
• They cannot seek out a candidate’s wage or salary history from their current or former employers. But, if this information is a matter of public record, or if the employee is currently working for the employer in a different job, this rule does not apply.
• They cannot have an employee sign a contract that prohibits the employee from disclosing their salary, wage, benefits, or other compensation.
• They cannot discharge an employee who fails to comply with an inquiry into wage or salary history.

It’s important to note that if an employee voluntarily discloses salary or wage information during the interview or hiring process, employers are not in violation of the new law. The employer is just not allowed to consider this disclosure when making a decision about whether to hire the candidate, the salary to offer them, or future compensation.

What are employers still allowed to do?

While there are several new things that employers cannot do under the amendment, they can still engage in the following activities:
• Ask the candidate about their compensation expectations, but without trying to get any information about the candidate’s current or previous salary
• Offer information about compensation for the position the candidate is interviewing for, but without trying to solicit information about the candidate’s compensation history

Equal Pay Claim Threshold Lowered

Another change the amendment is bringing is a lowering of the threshold for establishing an equal pay claim. This means that employers who have at least four employees are prohibited from paying unequal wages to men and women if they are:
• Doing the same or substantially similar work,
• Doing jobs requiring substantially similar skills, effort, and responsibility, and
• Doing work performed under similar working conditions.

This means that it may be easier for workers to make an equal pay claim.

The numbers: What are the penalties?

Under the new law, an individual can bring a civil action related to the above matters within five years of the occurrence and recover damages incurred and special damages up to $10,000, injunctive relief, and costs and attorney’s fees. Employers are now subject to civil penalties of up to $5,000 for each violation of the new law and each employee impacted by the violation.

How to Prepare

Because there could be serious consequences if employers go over the line with trying to solicit compensation information from candidates, they should take the following steps to revamp their hiring process:
• Go over current applications and ensure there are no past or current salary- or wage-related questions.
• Implement a training process so that employees are aware of these restrictions and they are trained on how to discuss compensation during the interview process.
• Review all employee documents, such as handbooks that list policies and procedures, to make sure they don’t forbid employees from taking about compensation with other employees.

Important Key Takeaways:


• Employers cannot ask or solicit information about a candidate’s previous or current wage or salary, including benefits and other compensation.
• Employers cannot prohibit employees from discussing their compensation with other employees.
• Hiring decisions cannot be made based on salary history.
• The threshold for individuals to make an equal pay claim has been lowered, so employers need to pay more attention to how they approach compensation decisions.

New Laws In Illinois Will Impact Your Business: Find Out How

Several new laws have been passed in the Illinois General Assembly recently that will impact both employers and employees across Illinois. The last step before enactment is for Governor Pritzker to sign off on these bills.

The new laws bring several changes to the table, including:

  • Creating limitations on contract terms and employee handbooks
  • Amending three acts: the Illinois Human Rights Act, the Illinois Equal Pay Act, and the Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act
  • Requiring more anti-harassment trainings for employers
  • Legalizing recreational cannabis use

These changes will impact employer policies. For example, employers will need to update discrimination policies and procedures, or if recreational cannabis is legalized, this could create concerns if an employer still prohibits drug use.

The Workplace Transparency Act (Effective January 1, 2020)

The Workplace Transparency Act (IWTA) aims to prevent workplace harassment and discrimination by improving the security of employees’ rights. Within employer contracts and policies, the IWTA prohibits specific aspects of confidentiality, non-disparagement, and arbitration clauses, unless other statutory requirements are first met.

The IWTA requires Illinois employers to both review and update their contracts, particularly their noncompete, non-solicitation, and confidentiality terms, in addition to separation or severance and arbitration agreements and employee handbooks and policies.

It’s important to note, however, that these new terms don’t apply to collective bargaining agreements, which applies to both private and public employers that have unionized workforces.

All contracts and policies:

The IWTA requires that, without exception, no contracts or agreements can contain language that prohibits employees from reporting “unlawful conduct” to officials, whether local, state, or federal, for investigation. This law is relevant to prospective, current, or former employees, and applies to all types of policy document or employment agreement (formal employment agreements; executive compensation agreements; noncompete, non-solicitation, or confidentiality agreements; or separation agreements).

“Unlawful conduct” can include criminal conduct or unlawful employment practices—for example, behavior that would violate the anti-harassment and discrimination laws outlined by the Illinois Department for Human Rights (IDHR) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The IWTA also prohibits, without exception, any provisions that would prevent an employee to testify in the event of a subpoena, court order, or other written request regarding criminal conduct, discrimination, harassment, or other unlawful employment practice.

Unilateral employment contracts and policies:

Employment contracts and policies—specifically those that are non-negotiated or that must be signed as a condition of employment—are not allowed to prohibit any employee, whether prospective, current, or former, from making disclosures or truthful statements regarding alleged discrimination and harassment or unlawful employment practices.

An example of what this means is that if any provision or clause could be read to indicate that it prevents an employee from truthfully stating or disclosing discrimination or harassment, regardless of how a contract provision was enforced, the clause would then be unenforceable.

If employers wish to keep this kind of provision, they could be required to negotiate agreements that contain confidentiality clauses with employees and include bargained-for consideration and a clear acknowledgment of employees’ right to do the following:

  1. Inform a local, state, or federal agency that enforces discrimination laws of good-faith allegations of unlawful practices
  2. Inform local, state, or federal officials of good-faith allegations of criminal conduct
  3. Contribute to proceedings with any local, state, or federal government agency that enforces discrimination laws
  4. State or disclose any truthful information that is required by law, regulation, or legal process
  5. Seek out or receive legal advice that is confidential

Unilateral arbitration agreements:

Certain agreements may not be enforceable that meet the following criteria: agreements that are non-negotiated and require arbitration of discrimination and harassment claims (as opposed to wage and hour claims) as a condition of employment. Similar to confidentiality agreements, however, arbitration agreements could still be enforceable under the new law if they are negotiated with the employee and include bargained-for consideration and acknowledge the five employee rights listed above.

Under the potentially amended Illinois Uniform Arbitration Act, arbitration agreements may be non-compliant with the IWTA and thus they may be void. It is still unclear whether Illinois arbitration agreement law will be preempted by federal law in some cases. Thus, these agreements must be drafted carefully to ensure that they are enforceable.

Settlement and termination agreements:

Termination agreements (also known as separation or severance agreements) and settlement agreements could include confidentiality promises that relate to discrimination and harassment if these statutory requirements are met:

  1. The employee has documented confidentiality as a preference, and the obligation is mutual under the contract.
  2. It is told to the employee in writing that he or she has a right to an attorney or representative (of his or her choosing) to review the contract before it is signed.
  3. In exchange for the confidentiality, there is a bargained-for consideration that is valid (for example, a severance payment instead of just the payout of final earned compensation).
  4. No claims of discrimination or harassment are waived in the agreement that ensue after the agreement execution date.
  5. The employee has 21 days to consider the agreement before signing it, in addition to 7 days to withdraw acceptance of the agreement. (This is similar to the drafting of waivers of age-related claims at the federal level, with people who are over 40.)

The employee would in no way be precluded from releasing discrimination and harassment claims by the IWTA, except prospective claims.

Enforcement:

If employees are successful when they challenge a violating contract’s enforceability under the IWTA (but not an employment policy), they will have the right to recover attorney fees and costs.

Other exceptions:

However, employers could require the following individuals to maintain confidentiality of discrimination and harassment allegations:

  • Employees who, as part of their job duties (e.g., human resources professionals) receive complaints, investigate allegations, or have access to confidential information regarding personnel
  • A third party or employee who is asked to participate in an open and ongoing investigation (e.g., a witness)
  • A third party or employee who gets attorney work product or communications that are attorney-client privileged, or who is subject to a recognized privilege
  • Any third party that investigates complaints, hired by the employer

Illinois Equal Pay Act Amendments (Effective 60 Days After Signed)

The following amendments would apply to the Illinois Equal Pay Act.

Wage and salary history of job applicants:

The amendments would prohibit employment agencies and employers from requesting the following information or requiring job applicants to disclose it: prior wage, salary, benefit, or other compensation history information as a condition of the application process or of employment. They are also prohibited from otherwise screening job applicants by requiring they meet minimum or maximum compensation criteria.

Both employers and employment agencies will be prohibited from seeking the above information about job applicants from current or prior employers. However, they are not prohibited from talking with applicants about wage, salary, benefits, or other compensation expectations.

If prior compensation history is disclosed voluntarily by the applicant, the information cannot be considered when the employer is deciding whether or not to make a job offer, nor in determining the terms of the job offer. To comply with these amendments, employers will likely need to update their job boards, interviewing processes, recruitment practices, and job applications.

Wage differentials:

Employers could also be subject to increased burdens in order to justify imbalances in pay among their employees. This especially applies to employees who have similar jobs but receive different pay rates, and employers could be required to show that the difference in pay is because of job-related reasons that are: 1) consistent with the needs of the business and 2) accounts for the difference in compensation, if there have been allegations against the employer that they underpay certain employees based on their sex or for being African American.

Wage and salary information of employees:

The amendments state that employees cannot be prohibited from being able to disclose or discuss compensation information, including that regarding wage, salary, or benefits. But, if certain positions require access to this information, such as human resources employees, they can be told to keep this information confidential. To be in accordance with these changes, handbooks, policies, and confidentiality agreements may need to be updated.

Penalties:

To enforce these amendments, State court lawsuits may be filed by employees who are seeking “special damages” of a maximum of $10,000, or actual damages more than $10,000, injunctive relief, and costs and reasonable attorney’s fees. If an employee can prove that he or she was underpaid based on their sex could receive the underpayment amount, punitive damages, and injunctive relief, in addition to uncapped compensatory damages if it is also proven that the employer behaved with malice or reckless indifference. Penalties up to $5,000 could also be sought by enforcement actions from the Illinois Department of Labor for each employee that was impacted and for each violation.

Illinois Human Rights Act Amendments (Effective January 1, 2020)

To address the security of employees’ rights to protection from harassment and discrimination, the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) would be amended in the following ways.

Expanded coverage:

The IHRA would be applicable to Illinois employers with one or more employees during 20 or more calendar weeks during the current year or within the year before the alleged violation took place. This amendment is significant because as the IHRA stands now, this applies only to employers with 15 or more employees. The expanded coverage would go into effect on July 1, 2020.

Expanded protected classes:

Discrimination and harassment prohibitions would be expanded so that all actual and perceived protected classes, which include race, sex, age, religion, or sexual orientation, among others, would be covered. Additionally, the amendment further defines harassment as any “unwelcome conduct” with “the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with the individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.” This definition is more broad than federal law.

Clarified work environment:

Regarding the prohibition of discrimination and harassment, the work environment will no longer be limited to an employee’s assigned physical location.

Employer liability:

The IHRA amendment would also update harassment responsibility for the employer. They may be responsible for harassment by employees who are non-managerial and non-supervisory if the employer is made aware of the behavior and does not take appropriate action. In addition, employers would be responsible for harassment of non-employees who are in the workplace to provide services for the employer. This could apply to consultants or contractors, for instance.

Annual training:

Sexual harassment training for all employees would be required from employers, at least once a year. The training materials used will be developed by the IDHR or an equivalent body.

Restaurants, bars, and coffee shops:

A written sexual harassment policy must be made and given to all employees within their first week of employment. This policy has to meet certain statutory requirements, including that the employee must be given notice about the procedures to file a charge with the IDHR and EEOC. Mandatory training programs specific to the bar and restaurant industry will be designed by the IDHR, and this will be in addition to the training program for all employers. These policies and trainings are required to be available in both English and Spanish.

Disclosure requirements:

Every employer that had an adverse judgment or ruling against it that is related to discrimination or harassment must report information about the judgments or rulings to the IDHR, starting July 1, 2020, and recurring by each July 1 thereafter. When charges of discrimination are investigated, the IDHR could request that employers disclose information about settlements that involve discrimination and harassment allegations, though this excludes the names of the alleged victims.

New penalties:

Penalties will apply to employers that do not meet these training and disclosure requirements. The penalties are not to exceed:

  • $500 for the first offense
  • $1,000 for the second offense
  • $3,000 for the third and any following offenses

Union employees:

If the same union represents the victim and the perpetrator of alleged sexual harassment, different representatives from the union must be delegated to represent them in proceedings.

Procedural changes:

Procedures for filing charges and investigation would be included in the amendments. The changes include that either party would now be allowed to ask the IDHR for a pending charge dismissal if a lawsuit at the state or federal level is filed because of the same issues that were raised in the charge. Another update is greater clarity regarding prior amendments in 2018, which allowed the charging party to bypass investigation procedures and go directly to the state court.

The Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act (Effective January 1, 2020)

Another amendment applies to the Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act (VESSA), which would expand protections for victims of domestic and sexual violence, sexual assault, and stalking to those victims of gender violence.

Gender violence is an act or acts of violence or aggression that would be considered a crime under state law and is committed (at least partially) based on someone’s actual or perceived sex or gender, or based on physical instruction or invasion that is a crime, whether or not criminal charges are brought. The threat of any of these actions would also be included.

If an employee is a victim of domestic, sexual, or gender violence, or has family members who are victims, employers are now required to give them up to 12 weeks of leave within a year, with job protection, or a similar accommodation that could be determined by how large the employer is. The employee victim can take this leave for counseling, legal help, medical services, safety planning, and the like.

Hotel and Casino Employee Safety Act (Effective July 1, 2020)

Hotel and casino workers in Illinois will be protected from sexual assault and harassment under the Hotel and Casino Employee Safety Act, which requires employers within these industries to give employees assistance in the event of an ongoing crime, sexual harassment or assault, or other emergency. Employers would be required to give them safety devices or other notification tools.

This act also requires relevant employers to incorporate anti-harassment policies that meet statutory requirements. These requirements include things like temporary work assignments, reporting procedures for complaints, or paid leave to testify or file a police report. The act states that lawsuits can be filed by employees in state court and they could recover attorneys’ fees and economic damages of $350 per day and per violation.

Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (Effective January 1, 2020)

Cannabis Act employer obligations:

Recreational cannabis is on the horizon for Illinois if the bill is signed, which would make it the eleventh state to legalize recreational cannabis. The Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (also known as the Cannabis Act) will begin on January 1, 2020. This act will allow Illinois adults to both possess and consume cannabis, but it may create issues for Illinois employers. The Cannabis Act does allow employers to implement reasonable and nondiscriminatory policies that support zero-tolerance, drug-free workplaces, which could include drug testing and workplace-use prohibition policies.

The Cannabis Act permits employers to ban cannabis use to meet contract obligations or to comply with state or federal funding or legal requirements. However, employers generally cannot take an adverse action against an employee or an applicant because of their marijuana use outside of the workplace. The Illinois Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act is also amended so that marijuana products are legal and must be treated similarly to tobacco and alcohol. Employment decisions cannot be made based on whether an applicant or employee uses cannabis off-site, during nonworking hours (or non-call hours), whether medically or recreationally, as long as the use is lawful.

Employers should then assess whether or not an employee is actually impaired or under the influence of cannabis during working hours if they are considering disciplinary action against an employee, since they are not allowed to consider the lawful use of cannabis outside of work. Disciplinary action would be allowed if an employer has a “good faith belief” that their employee is under the influence in a situation that is similar to “reasonable suspicion” standards.

If an employer decides to act on this disciplining, they are required to give the employee an opportunity to contest the decision, and drug testing could be used in this case. However, legal challenges could arise because cannabis-related impairment is more difficult to discern when compared to alcohol impairment testing, for example. In addition, employee victims could recover actual damages, costs, attorneys’ fees, and fines, so employers need to make sure that they are taking these new laws into consideration before acting. Practices and procedures should be updated accordingly.

Labor peace agreements:

Labor peace agreements aim to give labor organizations the ability to access and organize the workforce of a business that is licensed to dispense cannabis. Organizations that are applying for a cannabis-dispensing license should thus note that the state government will consider whether they have entered into a labor peace agreement with a labor organization. Because these agreements can be complicated, it’s important to work with an attorney experienced in labor law.

Conclusion

Illinois’ pending legislation means that employers need to update their documents and policies accordingly. This includes reviewing and revising employment agreements, employee handbooks, and non-disclosure and separation agreements. Any other policies or agreements related to employment will also need to be revised accordingly so that employers are in compliance with these amendments.

In many cases, employers struggle to keep up with constantly-changing state legislation. Even one compliance infraction could cost your business hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. Consider working with a compliance partner like Launchways to ensure all your compliance concerns are taken care of proactively.