Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Quick Overview of Employment Law in Illinois

By Joanne Aika Castillo

In Illinois, just like in any other state, a company should not refuse hiring an employee based on protected class such as age, race, religion, sex, country of origin, and disability. It is illegal to ask questions which pertain to the details of a person's protected class such as number of children, place of birth, sexual preference, and religious views. However questions that clarify legalities such as eligibility to work in the US or criminal record questions are acceptable if they affect the capability of the applicant to perform his or her job properly.

In Illinois, working individuals are expected to be "at will" employees. This means that a company may discharge employees for whatever reason and not be held liable by it. In turn employees are allowed to quit, strike, or stop their work on their own volition. In the presence of an employment contract, an employee should only be terminated based on what the contract says and should also undergo the proper procedure as stated by the company's regulations.

Workplace safety should be followed at all times. It is required by the federal law that companies should adhere to workplace safety rules and regulations in order to create a hazard free and a health friendly working environment. It is acceptable for an employee to anonymously complain about unsafe working conditions to any state or federal office and be protected from retaliation. The Illinois Department of Labor's Division of Safety Inspection and Education follows the Illinois Safety Inspection and Education Act to ensure that safety and health standards are observed in the workplace through visits and inspections.

In the event that a worker gets fatally injured or killed from a work related incident, a worker's compensation should be awarded to the employee. The amount of compensation depends on the degree of the damages suffered by the worker. The Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission acts as the state court for worker's compensation cases. In most cases, a severe and permanent damage of the hand, head, face, arm, chest, or leg below the knee should receive a compensation not greater than 66 2/3 percent of the worker's average weekly wage for up to 150 weeks. Permanent partial disability is tantamount to about 60 percent of the worker's average weekly wage. Temporary total disability is generally 66 2/3 percent of the worker's average weekly wage.

Discrimination and wrongful termination are prohibited by federal and state laws. Similar to the hiring process, other employment decisions should not be based on the employee's protected class. Termination, promotion, and salary increase are examples should be based on the worker's skills, abilities, and performance. In addition, it is prohibited to discharge an employee if he or she refuses to do an illegal act, avails the Family and Medical Leave Act, and reports or engages in a discrimination lawsuit and investigation. It is also illegal for a company to disregard its own stated procedures of termination and violate an existing employment contract.

The Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees to go on leave for 12 weeks without pay in case of a medical condition, pregnancy, adoption, or sickness of a family member. It should follow that once an employee returns to work, he or she should still have the same job and compensation as before. It is applicable for employees who have worked a total of 12 months for the said company or an employee of a "covered" employer. A covered employer refers to a company consists of 50 or more employees.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security administers the Unemployment Insurance system, which is funded by employers. The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 is also observed in Illinois. This law allows employees to continue health insurance coverage at their own expense after employment. There are factors to be considered in order to qualify for COBRA coverage. It includes termination either voluntary or involuntary for reasons either than misconduct and reduction in the number of hours.

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