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Employee Handbooks: Policies Illinois Employers Should Be Sure to Include

There is no legal requirement that an Illinois employer must have an Employee Handbook. However, most Illinois employers do have an Employee Handbook because 1) it is a convenient way to distribute the employer’s policies to its employees and 2) there are certain legal protections that having an Employee Handbook brings to an employer.

In this article, I will discuss some of the policies that are particularly important to include in an Employee Handbook in Illinois.

  1. Business Expense Reporting: The Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act was amended effective January 1, 2019 to require employers to reimburse employees for all “necessary expenditures” incurred by employees within the scope of their employment.

Although this law is basically pro employee, it does offer a certain protection for the Illinois employer as well. Illinois employers can require employees to submit their request for reimbursement within 30 days of the date of incurring the expense. Illinois employers should want this 30-day limit in the Employee Handbook so that if an employee submits requests a year later (for example), the Illinois employer can deny the requests because the Employee Handbook policy requires that requests for reimbursement must be made within 30 days. This is a valuable legal protection because if the employer fires an employee, for example, the disgruntled fired employee cannot successfully claim he/she is owed a year or two of business expenses.

  1. Proper Deductions: It is wise to have a policy in the Employee Handbook stating that if an inadvertent deduction is improperly made to an employee’s paycheck, the employee must immediately report it in writing to Human Resources or to the Office Manager. This hopefully encourages employees to review the deductions made to their paycheck and report any errors so that the employer can take appropriate action.
  1. Disclaimer in Employee Benefits Section: Almost all Employee Handbooks have a section on employee benefits. Employers should make absolutely sure to have a disclaimer stating that all benefits are subject to change or revocation at any time, with or without notice, in the sole discretion of the Company.
  1. Disclaimer in Vacation Policy: A common disclaimer that many companies find valuable to state in the vacation policy is: “Employees do not accrue vacation while they are out on leaves of absences, lay-offs, and not working for the Company since the employee is not rendering service to the Company.”
  1. VESSA: All Illinois employers must comply with the Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act (known as “VESSA”). VESSA was amended on January 1, 2020 to add a category of protection, “gender violence.” Illinois employers must either have a VESSA policy in their Employee Handbook or, in the alternative, post the required VESSA poster.

VESSA has a sliding scale depending on the number of employees a company has. If your company has 1 – 14 employees, then your company is required to provide 4 workweeks of unpaid leave. If your company has 15 – 49 employees, then your company is required to provide 8 workweeks of unpaid leave. If your company has 50 or more employees, then your company is required to provide 12 workweeks of unpaid leave. Employers may not require employees to substitute available paid or unpaid leave for the leave permitted under VESSA.

  1. Pregnancy – Reasonable Accommodation: All Illinois employers must have a pregnancy reasonable accommodation policy in their Employee Handbook. Again, Illinois employers don’t have to have an employee handbook, but once they do, they MUST have a policy on pregnancy reasonable accommodation. Effective January 1, 2015, the Illinois Human Rights Act placed very important obligations on employers with regard to their pregnant employees.
  1. Disability – Reasonable Accommodation: Illinois employers must have a disability reasonable accommodation policy if they choose to have an Employee Handbook.
  1. Lactation/Breastfeeding: Illinois employers should be aware of amendments to the Illinois Nursing Mothers in the Workplace Act that expand the rights of employees who need to express milk while they are at work. Some of the new required language is protective of the employee’s right to express breast milk for nursing an infant child. Some of the new language includes the requirement that the company will not reduce the employee’s compensation for time used for the purpose of expressing milk or nursing a baby. The Illinois employer must provide reasonable break time as needed by the employee unless to do so would create an undue hardship as defined by the Illinois Human Rights Act.
  1. Guns and Weapons: Illinois employers can have a policy restricting employees from possessing or using weapons while on any property owned, leased or controlled by the Company. However, nothing in such a policy can prevent an employee from lawfully carrying or storing a firearm in their personal vehicle that is parked in the Company’s designated parking areas. An employee is permitted to store a firearm (that is lawfully possessed by the employee) in the employee’s vehicle in the Illinois employer’s parking lot if the firearm is concealed in a case within the locked vehicle or if it is in a locked container out of plain view within the vehicle.
  1. Anti-Harassment/Sexual Harassment: The Illinois Human Rights Act was amended on January 1, 2020. Certain definitions of unlawful discrimination were expanded to provide greater protections to employees. Therefore, Illinois employers must modify their Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and Anti-Harassment/Sexual Harassment policies to reflect these expanded protected categories and expanded new definitions. For example, the Anti-Harassment/Sexual Harassment policy should indicate that the policy protects not only all employees from a work environment free of unlawful discrimination but also non-employees including contractors, consultants, and anyone else directly performing services for the Illinois employer pursuant to a contract with that employer.

This article contains only some highlights as to what policies an Illinois employer may want to consider inserting its Employee Handbook in light of the many new laws, amendments and legal concerns. There are many important policies and Employee Handbook issues that this article does not discuss. All Illinois employers should have a careful legal review of their Employee Handbook to make sure it is in full compliance with the shifting legal landscape in Illinois.

For assistance with drafting or reviewing employee handbooks, contact Attorney Nancy E. Joerg who can be reached at Wessels Sherman’s St. Charles, Illinois office: 630-377-1554 or email her at najoerg@wesselssherman.com.

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