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Illinois Tightens Restrictions on Use Of Criminal Conviction Information

Restrictions on inquiring into, or using, criminal history information are not new to Illinois employers.  For years, Illinois employers been precluded from using an applicant’s arrest history when making hiring or other employment decisions.  And, in 2015, Illinois joined the list of “ban the box” states by precluding employers with 15+ employees from inquiring into or considering the criminal record or criminal history of an applicant until after the applicant was selected for an interview or had received a conditional offer of employment.

Effective March 23, 2021, the restrictions have tightened again, through amendments to the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”), which borrow concepts from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”).

Restricted Use of Conviction Records

The new IHRA provisions make it a civil rights violation for an employer to use a “conviction record” as the basis for any employment decision, including hiring, promotion, discipline and discharge, unless:

  1. There is a “substantial relationship” between one or more of the previous criminal offenses and the employment sought or held; OR
  2. The granting or continuation of employment would involve an unreasonable risk to property or to the safety or welfare of specific individuals

US COVID-19: Under the American Rescue Plan, Providing FFCRA Leave Remains Voluntary

The American Rescue Plan (“ARP”), signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021, does not place any new paid leave requirements on private employers who were previously covered by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”).  However, as they have been able to do through the first quarter of 2021, such employers may voluntarily continue to provide Paid Sick Leave (“PSL”) and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act (“EFMLA”) leave as set forth in the FFCRA and receive certain payroll tax credits for such wages.

In addition, the ARP expands various aspects of the FFCRA:

Expansion of PSL:

  • Employees can be given a new 10-day allotment of PSL for use from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021, even if they exhausted their PSL days during 2020 or used PSL with the employer’s permission during the period January 1 – March 31, 2021.
  • PSL can be used for additional reasons (subject to the FFCRA requirement that the employee be unable to work due to the qualifying reason), specifically:
    • for leave needed when the employee is seeking or awaiting the results of a diagnostic test for, or a medical diagnosis of, COVID 19, where such employee has

US COVID-19: Illinois DOL Issues COVID-19 Vaccine Compensation/Leave Guidance

March 11, 2021

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With an express purpose of encouraging employees (and their family members) to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the Illinois Department of Labor (“IDOL”) recently issued guidance for employers regarding compensation and paid leave in connection with absences for vaccine appointments.

According to the IDOL: 

Mandatory Vaccination:  The time an employee spends to get the vaccine, when required to do so by the employer, is “likely compensable,” even if it is non-working time.  Accordingly, employers should:

  • provide paid leave; or
  • otherwise compensate employees for such time.

Voluntary Vaccination: Employers are not required to provide compensation/paid leave for employees to obtain the vaccine when vaccination is not required by the employer; however, employers are encouraged to do so.  Accordingly, employers should:

  • allow employees to use sick leave, vacation time, or other paid leave;
  • consider offering employees “flex” time so that they do not have to take unpaid leave; or
  • allow employees to “flexibility” to take time off unpaid.

Family Vaccination: Under the Illinois Employee Sick Leave Act (effective Jan. 1, 2017), depending on how an employer handles employee use of paid sick leave benefits, the employer may be required to allow employees to use paid sick

US COVID-19: COVID-Related Leave – When Does The FMLA Apply?

COVID-19 has led to significant employee absences from the workplace.  While the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may well apply to certain such absences, employers must avoid the temptation to count all COVID-related leave against employees’ FMLA entitlement without considering the specific circumstances.  Over-designating absences as FMLA leave when the FMLA does not actually apply can create just as many legal issues as failing to designate covered absences under the FMLA.

For example, an FMLA interference claim may result if an employee is denied additional FMLA leave after the employee’s FMLA entitlement is exhausted due to absences that did not truly count as FMLA leave.  Conversely, by offering FMLA protections when the FMLA does not apply, employers may be establishing a right to reinstatement or other benefits when no such right should exist.  At a minimum, improperly designating absences as FMLA leave can create confusion and administrative nightmares.

Accordingly, COVID-related absences must be evaluated carefully and designated as FMLA leave only in appropriate circumstances.  As a general overview – but with the caveat that this post is not intended to provide legal advice concerning specific situations – below are examples of COVID-related situations in which the FMLA typically

US COVID-19: DOL Issues FMLA, FFCRA Guidance

The United States Department of Labor (DOL) wrapped up 2020 by issuing COVID-related guidance under both the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

FMLA Guidance

The DOL issued new FMLA guidance in the form of two “Field Assistance Bulletins” (FAB)[1], noting in a press release that the guidance is part of the DOL’s “ongoing efforts to support the American workforce through the pandemic recovery.”

In FAB 2020-7, the DOL addressed the employer notice provisions of various federal labor laws.[2]  With respect to the required posting of the general FMLA notice, the DOL explained that it will consider electronic posting by employers to satisfy the posting requirement when: (a) all hiring and work is done remotely; and (b) the employer posts the FMLA notice on an internal or external website that is accessible to all employees and applicants at all times.   To the extent an employer has a hybrid workforce (i.e. employees who work remotely and employees who work on-site), the DOL encourages employers to use electronic postings to supplement, not replace, their posting requirement of the general FMLA notice.

In FAB 2020-8, the DOL indicated that it

US COVID-19: New COVID Relief Bill (including FFCRA Tax Credit Amendments) Becomes Law

Late last night, President Trump signed the newest COVID relief bill into law.  The new law amends several federal relief laws, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”).  Specifically, employers who voluntarily provide FFCRA benefits after the end of the year may receive tax credits for qualifying leave provided through March 31, 2021.

Additional information about the FFCRA amendments in the new law is available here.  We will continue to monitor developments, including any relevant guidance that the Department of Labor may publish.

BCLP has assembled a COVID-19 HR and Labor & Employment taskforce to assist clients with labor and employment issues across various jurisdictions. You can contact the taskforce at: COVID-19HRLabour&EmploymentIssues@bclplaw.com.   You can also view other thought leadership, guidance, and helpful information on our dedicated COVID-19 / Coronavirus resources page at https://www.bclplaw.com/en-GB/topics/covid-19/coronavirus-covid-19-resources.html

US COVID-19: New COVID Relief Bill Extends Certain FFCRA Tax Credits, But Does Not Mandate Extension of Leave Benefits

Late on December 21, 2020, Congress passed a new federal COVID relief bill, which, if signed into law, would amend a number of laws, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”).  The FFCRA currently requires covered employers to provide eligible employees with paid sick leave and partially paid emergency family and medical leave benefits through December 31, 2020.

Notably, the new bill does not extend the FFCRA’s mandate that employers provide such leave beyond the end of the year.  Instead, the new bill allows covered employers to receive a tax credit for leave that they voluntarily provide to employees from January 1, 2021 through March 31, 2021, if such leave would otherwise be covered by the FFCRA.

In practice, this means that if the new bill becomes law, under federal law:

  • Employers will not be required to provide paid sick leave or partially paid emergency family and medical leave under the FFCRA beyond December 31, 2020.
  • Employers may voluntarily provide paid sick leave or partially paid emergency family and medical leave under the FFCRA after December 31, 2020.
  • If an employer voluntarily provides such leave benefits after December 31, 2020, they may be eligible for a tax

US COVID-19: FFCRA Entitlements Expire On December 31

As 2020 is nearing an end, so too are the leave entitlements available to certain employees under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).  Below are key points to keep in mind as we approach this end date, along with recommendations for 2021:

  • FFCRA leave is available only through December 31, 2020.
  • Any leave taken beyond December 31, even if for a qualifying reason, and even if the leave begins before December 31, is not FFCRA leave.
  • Tax credits under the FFCRA are not available for leave that occurs after December 31.
  • Continue to review requests for FFCRA leave through the end of December carefully to ensure the employee has a qualifying reason for leave.
  • As schools begin to close for winter break, employers should be mindful that an employee is not eligible for FFCRA leave if the leave request is based solely on a school closure due to winter vacation or the end of an academic semester, as these are not “COVID-19 related reasons.”
  • FFCRA leave is essentially “use it [for a qualifying reason] or lose it.” Employees are not entitled to either “carry over” unused FFCRA leave into 2021 or be paid out for any such

US COVID-19: DOL Issues Revised FFCRA Regulations In Response to NY Decision

In August, we informed you of a decision by a federal district court in New York (the “Court”) that invalidated four key provisions of the federal Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) regulations interpreting the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”).  On September 11, 2020, the DOL acknowledged the nationwide impact of the Court’s ruling, and issued much-anticipated revised regulations addressing the four provisions.  The new regulations will be formally published, and become effective, on September 16, 2020.

As described in detail below, in the new regulations, the DOL: (a) affirmed the “work-availability” requirement; (b) affirmed the “employer consent” requirement for intermittent leave; (c) narrowed the scope of the “health care provider” definition for purposes of the available exemption from the leave entitlement; and (d) clarified the timing of notice and documentation requirements.  The DOL also provided new and revised Q&As on these subjects (see Q&A #s 16, 21, 22, 56, and 98-103).

Work-Availability

In the revised regulations, the DOL held firm to the requirement that employees are only entitled to leave if they are unable to work “because of” a COVID-19 qualifying reason.  The DOL addressed the Court’s concerns with consistency by clarifying that this work-availability requirement applies to all qualifying reasons

U.S. COVID-19: DOL Issues FFCRA Guidance Regarding School Reopening Plans

Last week, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) published guidance (Q&A #s 98-100) on the impact of various school reopening plans on employees’ entitlement to leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”).  As anticipated, leave rights depend on the specific circumstances, with the key being whether the school is “closed” (not available for the child to attend in person):

  • No In-Person Program: If the school is not offering any in-person instruction and instead is providing only remote learning (aka virtual learning; e-learning; distance learning) to students, then an employee will have a qualifying reason for leave.
  • Hybrid Program: If the school is providing a hybrid program pursuant to which students are receiving in-person instruction on some days and doing remote learning on other days (such as alternating days or weeks in the classroom vs. at-home), then an employee will have a qualifying reason for leave but only on the days when in-person instruction is not available to their child.
  • Choice Between In-Person or Remote Program: If the school provides families with a choice between an in-person program or a remote program, and the employee chooses the remote option, the employee will not have a qualifying reason
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