Illinois May Soon Require “Essential Employers” to Provide PPE for Workers
The Illinois House of Representatives recently introduced House Bill 5769, which would create the Illinois Personal Protective Equipment Responsibility Act (the “Act”). The Act would require “essential employers” to provide personal protective equipment (“PPE”) to both employees and independent contractors. The Act defines an “essential employer” as an employer engaged in an “essential business” as defined by a disaster proclamation issued pursuant to Illinois’s Emergency Management Act or any executive order issued in furtherance thereof.
At a minimum, essential employers would be required to provide face coverings and require that such coverings be worn “when maintaining a 6-foot social distance is not possible at all times.” Id. at § 10(a). Additional forms of PPE, including, but not limited to, gloves, safety glasses, safety face shields, shoes, earplugs or muffs, hard hats, respirators, coveralls, vests, and full body suits, must be provided “when work circumstances require.” H.B. 5769 §§ 5, 10(a), 101st Gen. Assemb. (2020). If signed into law, the Act’s requirements would become effective immediately, and would last until the expiration of the disaster proclamation or executive order(s) at issue. Id. at §§ 10(e), 99.
Both “owners” and “operators” would be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act, and both could be subject to joint and several liability for violations. Id. at §§ 10(a), 15, 20. “Owners” are defined as any “person or entity with legal ownership of the essential employer,” and the Act does not distinguish between majority owners or other forms shareholder arrangements. Id. at § 5. “Operators” are defined as any “person or entity that has operational or managerial control of the essential employer,” including “any officer, member, or partner” of the controlling person or entity. Id. at § 5.
Aggrieved workers may recover trebled damages sustained as a result of a violation, as well as punitive damages, attorney’s fees and costs. The Act would also authorize workers to seek injunctive relief, and would allow courts to “exercise all powers necessary” to remedy violations, including revoking or suspending an employer’s business license.
The Act is one to watch amongst of a series of employment-law related measures Illinois legislators have recently introduced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. These measures include: a bill co-sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans which would delay the minimum wage increase currently set for July 1, 2020 until January 1, 2021 (S.B. 3988, introduced May 19, 2020); a bill providing employers tax credits for hiring Illinois residents to work in the fields of technology, health care, or manufacturing if those residents were unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic (S.B. 3992, introduced May 20, 2020); and bills introduced by Republican legislators precluding unemployment benefits from being chargeable to employers where unemployment is directly or indirectly attributable to COVID-19 (S.B. 3986, introduced May 19, 2020) and limiting the civil liability of employers for acts that result in the transmission of COVID-19 (S.B. 3989, introduced May 19, 2020).