May 9, 2021

Volume XI, Number 129

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May 06, 2021

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Chicago City Council Introduces COVID-19 Anti-Retaliation Ordinance, Reflecting Growing Trend

On April 22, 2020, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, with the backing of several Aldermen, introduced the COVID-19 Anti-Retaliation Ordinance (the “Ordinance”), which, if enacted, would prohibit Chicago employers from retaliating against employees for obeying a public health order requiring an employee to remain at home as a consequence of COVID-19.  This reflects a growing trend among states and local governments in enacting protections against retaliation amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ordinance would prohibit employers from demoting or terminating a “Covered Employee”[1] for obeying an order issued by the Mayor, the Governor of Illinois or the Chicago Department of Public Health requiring the Covered Employee to:

(1) Stay at home to minimize the transmission of COVID-19;

(2) Remain at home while experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or sick with COVID-19;

(3) Obey a quarantine order issued to the Covered Employee;

(4) Obey an isolation order issued to the Covered Employee; or

(5) Obey an order issued by the Commissioner of Health regarding the duties of hospitals and other congregate facilities.

An employer would also be prohibited from retaliating against a Covered Employee for obeying an order issued by the employees’ treating healthcare provider relating to subsections (2), (3) and (4) above.

Finally, the anti-retaliation protections would extend to Covered Employees who are caring for an individual who is subject to subsections (1)-(3) above, and would apply even if workers have exhausted any earned sick-leave time available pursuant to Chicago’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance.

Affirmative Defense

The Ordinance would allow an employer to assert an affirmative defense if it relied upon a reasonable interpretation of the public health order at-issue and, upon learning of the violation of the Ordinance, cured the violation within 30 days.

Penalties/Damages

The Ordinance has teeth:  violations can lead to fines of up to $1,000 per offense per day, and Covered Employees who have been retaliated against may pursue the following recovery in a civil action: (i) reinstatement; (ii) damages equal to three times the full amount of wages that would have been owed had the retaliatory action not taken place; (iii) actual damages caused directly by the retaliatory action; and (iv) costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

Next Steps

The Ordinance has been referred to the Chicago Committee on Workforce Development for further deliberation.

A Growing Trend

The protections the Ordinance would afford to employees are consistent with a growing trend among state and local governments in response to the COVID-19 crisis.  Similar protections have been established through emergency orders or rules in New JerseyMichigan and Washington which prohibit employers from disciplining or terminating employees for requesting or taking time off after contracting or, in some circumstances, being exposed to COVID-19.  Other states, such as New York and California, have issued guidance applying existing federal, state, and local anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws to prohibit employers from discriminating against or refusing to provide reasonable accommodations for employees who contract or are otherwise impacted by the virus. As state legislative and executive responses continue to rapidly evolve, employers should ensure that they are familiar with the latest guidance in each state where their employees are located.


[1] “Covered Employee” generally means any employee who, in any particular two-week period, performs at least two hours of work for an employer while physically present within the geographic boundaries of the City of Chicago.  Chicago, Ill., Mun. Code § 1-24-010.

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© 2021 Proskauer Rose LLP. National Law Review, Volume X, Number 118
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TRENDING LEGAL ANALYSIS

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About this Author

Steven J Pearlman, Labor Employment Law Firm, Proskauer Law firm
Partner

Steven Pearlman is a partner in the Labor & Employment Law Department and co-head of the firm's Whistleblowing & Retaliation Group, resident in the Chicago office. Steven’s practice focuses on defending complex employment litigation involving claims of discrimination and harassment, wage-and-hour laws and breaches of restrictive covenants (e.g., non-competition agreements). He has successfully tried cases to verdict before judges and juries in Illinois, Florida and California, and defended what is reported to be the largest Illinois-only class action in the history of the U.S....

312-962-3545
Edward C. Young, Proskauer Rose, Harassment Lawyer, Labor Rights Attorney
Associate

Edward C. Young is an associate in the Labor & Employment Law Department. He represents companies nationwide in a broad range of employment issues, including discrimination, retaliation and harassment claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Family Medical Leave Act, as well as other federal and state employment statutes and various common law torts. In addition, Eddie represents employers in trade secret matters and challenges to the independent contractor status of workers.

...

312-962-3595
H Ren Morris , Proskauer Law Firm, Chicago, Labor and Employment Law Attorney
Associate

Ren Morris is an associate in the Labor & Employment Law Department and a member of the Firm’s Whistleblowing & Retaliation Group and COVID-19 Reduction-in-Force Taskforce.

Ren’s practice spans the life-cycle of the employment relationship, from counseling employers on compliance with ever-changing federal, state and local employment law to representing employers in all aspects of employment litigation, including claims of discrimination, harassment and retaliation, enforcement of restrictive covenants, and whistleblower retaliation and qui tam litigation. Ren...

312-962-3556
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