Goldberg Kohn

COVID-19 Anti-Retaliation Ordinance

In response to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, on May 20, 2020, the Chicago City Council passed the COVID-19 Anti-Retaliation Ordinance ("Ordinance"). The Ordinance aims to protect "Covered Employees" who remain at home to observe public health orders or orders of a treating healthcare provider.

Subject to a few exceptions, a "Covered Employee" is an 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 ("City"). The Ordinance does not apply to government employees other than those working for the City and its (defined) "Sister Agencies."

The Ordinance prohibits employers from terminating or demoting a Covered Employee for obeying an order issued by the Mayor, Governor of Illinois, the Chicago Department of Public Health, or, where applicable, a treating healthcare provider. The Ordinance applies to orders that require a Covered Employee to:

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

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

  3. Obey a quarantine order issued to the Covered Employee;

  4. Obey an isolation order issued to the Covered Employee; and

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

Employers are further prohibited from terminating or demoting a Covered Employee if the employee is caring for an individual required to:

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

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

  3. Obey a quarantine order issued to the individual.

The Ordinance does not require employers to allow healthy employees to refuse to work as permitted in current government orders.  In the event the employer is not strictly complying with such orders, however, any employee who refuses to work as a result may be protected from retaliation under the Ordinance.

If an employer is found to violate the Ordinance, the Commissioner of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection may take action against the employer to rectify the violation by bringing an administrative or court claim.  Furthermore, the aggrieved employee may also bring a civil action against the employer. The employee may be entitled to damages equal to three times the full amount of wages that would have been owed had the retaliatory action not taken place, as well as actual damages caused by the retaliatory conduct, together with costs and attorneys’ fees. The employee may also seek reinstatement to the same position held before the retaliatory action took place or to an equivalent position.

The Ordinance allows an employer to assert an affirmative defense if the employer can prove that it relied on a reasonable interpretation of a public health order and cured the violation within 30 days of learning about it.

The COVID-19 Anti-Retaliation Ordinance will remain in effect until the Commissioner of Public Health makes a written determination that the threat to public health posed by COVID-19 has diminished to the point that the Ordinance can be safely repealed.

If you have any questions about the Ordinance, or any other aspect of dealing with the effects of COVID-19 in the workplace, please contact a member of our Labor and Employment Group.

July 6, 2020

Questions? Please Contact:

Michael Sullivan

Jon Klinghoffer

Meredith Kirshenbaum

David Morrison

Labor & Employment Practice Group

The material in this client alert is based on information existing at that time. It should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinions based on any specific set of facts. The information in this publication is not intended to create, and the transmission and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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