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While many other state legislatures were enjoying a summer vacation, in Illinois they were hard at work passing new employment laws. Here’s an overview of three new Illinois employment laws passed this summer that take effect on January 1, 2015:

New law limits ability to ask applicants about criminal background

In mid-July, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act, which is effective January 1, 2015. This law, commonly known as a “Ban the Box” law, significantly limits an employer's ability to request or review an applicant’s criminal background information as part of the hiring process.

Under this law, an employer may not inquire into or consider the criminal record or criminal history of a job applicant until the employer determines that the applicant is qualified for the position and either:

  • Selects the applicant for an interview; or
  • If there is not an interview, makes a conditional offer of employment to the applicant.

The Act does include a number of exceptions. It does not apply where:

  1. federal or State law requires the exclusion of applicants with certain criminal convictions;
  2. a standard fidelity bond or equivalent is required and an applicant's conviction would disqualify the applicant from obtaining such a bond; or
  3. when the employer employs individuals licensed under the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Systems Act.

Employers who do not comply with the new Act are subject to monetary penalties from the Illinois Department of Labor. 

New payroll card law

On August 7, 2014, Governor Quinn signed an amendment to the state’s Wage Payment and Collection Act (“the Act”) that provides that employers may pay wages on a “payroll card” that meets certain requirements. One purpose of the law was to clarify an ambiguity in the existing Act about whether payroll cards were actually a permissible method of paying wages in Illinois. The amendment now makes clear that payroll debit cards are a permissible means of paying employees under Illinois law – if the cards meet certain requirements.

Permissible payroll cards must:

  • Provide “clear and conspicuous written disclosure” that payment by payroll debit card is voluntary and list at least one other method of payment available to the employee;
  • Provide employees with an itemized list of paycard fees that may be charged by the payroll debit card’s issuer and written notice that third parties may assess transaction fees in addition to the fees assessed by the paycard’s issuer;
  • Explain in writing how the employee may – without incurring fees – obtain all wages at least once per pay period and at least twice per month, have unlimited telephonic access to the account balance, and obtain at least one paper or electronic transaction history per month; and
  • Not use a paycard that charges fees for certain specified items, including point-of-sale transactions.

The amendments to the Act become effective on January 1, 2015.

New pregnancy discrimination law

On August 25, 2014, the Illinois Governor signed the “Pregnancy Fairness Bill,” establishing new protections for pregnant workers in Illinois. This law, which amends the Illinois Human Rights Act, creates substantial new rules for employers regarding treatment of pregnant employees and job applicants. The law applies to all employers operating in Illinois effective January 1, 2015.  

The new law requires Illinois employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees and applicants experiencing “pregnancy, childbirth or related or common conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth.” An employer may deny a reasonable accommodation only if it can prove that the requested accommodation presents an undue hardship to the employer's ordinary business operations. Under the law, it is unlawful to discriminate or retaliate against an employee or applicant for requesting an accommodation. Employers are also precluded from forcing an employee to accept an accommodation that she did not request, or to take leave from work if another accommodation is available that would permit the employee to continue working.

The new Illinois law includes many of the same requirements as those established by the EEOC in its recent guidance on the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

To ensure compliance with these new laws, Illinois employers should review their hiring, employment, and payroll practices prior to January 1, 2015.