Well, that was quick. The General Assembly has amended the Employee Sick Leave Act (“ESLA”) just sixteen days after it took effect. The Act requires Illinois employers to allow employees to use sick leave to be absent from work due to personal illness or injury and to attend medical appointments for the employee and members of the employee’s family.
The Act’s original text was far from a model of clarity and included inconsistencies that appeared to be typographical errors. While those may be fixed, the amended law also includes substantial changes to its scope, including a provision exempting it from forcing changes to collective bargaining agreements.
Changes include further explanation of what the Act means by “employment benefit plan or paid time off policy” (not disability or an insurance policy); adding “stepchild” to the category of individuals who the employee may use sick leave benefits for (previously “stepchild” was not included although “stepparent” was); and adding “domestic partner” (previously it was included only in the section allowing employers to limit the amount of family sick leave use, but not in the categories of family members for whom employees could use sick leave).
The amendments delete the provision restricting the employee’s use of family medical “for reasonable periods of time as the employee’s attendance may be necessary”, but add a provision allowing employers to request “written verification” of the employee’s absence from a health care professional, but only if such is required under the employer’s policy.
The Act continues to allow employers to limit family sick leave use to an amount at least equal to six months of annual sick leave accrual. The amendments define that as one half the employee’s maximum annual grant for employees who accrue sick leave based on the employee’s years of service, rather than an annual or monthly accrual.
New language also exempts employees who are subject to the Federal Railway Labor Act and the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, two statutes that apply generally to railroad and airline employees.
Probably most relevant to our bargaining units, the amendments also clarify that the ESLA does not interfere with employers and unions collective bargaining. It now provides:
“Nothing in this Act shall be construed to invalidate, diminish, or otherwise interfere with any collective bargaining agreement nor shall it be construed to invalidate, diminish, or otherwise interfere with any party’s power to collectively bargain such agreement.”
Essentially, if your contract has provisions dealing with use of sick leave for family medical, those provisions remain in effect. However, if it does not, the employer will have to make sure its policies are consistent with the law.
A curious addition at the end provides that the Illinois Department of Labor may promulgate rules exempting other employment from coverage “as necessary to implement this Act in accordance with applicable State and federal law.” It does not provide any other guidance on how that will be interpreted or implemented.
The amendments are not a rewrite of the ESLA, but they do include fixes, clarifications, and some substantial modifications. In units where the collective bargaining agreement is silent on the benefits provided by the statute, the employer should be updating its policies to remain compliant. Where the agreement has language dealing with issues covered by the ESLA, we will look to ensure the agreement’s benefits are at least equal to those provided by law.