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
How employees get their information about their
How you can make your open enrollment more
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
How employees get
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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 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
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
Description and clarification of what sexual
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
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
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.
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
Repeat violations could be as much as $5,000 for each
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
Employers cannot require workers to sign
nondisclosure agreements related to harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.
Independent contractors are also protected under
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
No matter the numbers, diverse perspectives
bring invaluable expertise and viewpoints to teams to make them more creative
Implement D&I into your strategy by:
Distributing knowledge throughout the company
Setting up ways to measure success
Updating your approach to hiring and
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.
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.
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
Amending three acts: the Illinois Human Rights
Act, the Illinois Equal Pay Act, and the Victims’ Economic Security and Safety
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.
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
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.
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:
Inform a local, state, or federal agency that
enforces discrimination laws of good-faith allegations of unlawful practices
Inform local, state, or federal officials of
good-faith allegations of criminal conduct
Contribute to proceedings with any local, state,
or federal government agency that enforces discrimination laws
State or disclose any truthful information that
is required by law, regulation, or legal process
Seek out or receive legal advice that is
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.
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
The employee has documented confidentiality as a
preference, and the obligation is mutual under the contract.
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.
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).
No claims of discrimination or harassment are
waived in the agreement that ensue after the agreement execution date.
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.
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.
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
The following amendments would apply to the Illinois Equal
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
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.
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
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.
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,
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.
Regarding the prohibition of discrimination and harassment,
the work environment will no longer be limited to an employee’s assigned physical
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
Regulation and Tax Act (Effective January 1, 2020)
Cannabis Act employer
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
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”
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 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.
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.