by Lana L. Rupprecht, Esq. - Director Product Compliance
& Marti Cardi, Esq. - Senior Compliance Consultant and Legal Counsel,
December 01, 2021
Would you like a break from all the updates on the vaccination mandates?
Well, here you go. This blog is devoted to discussing amendments to the Illinois Victims Economic Security and Safety Act (VESSA) taking effect in the New Year.
The law, which can be found here, currently permits employees working in Illinois who are victims of domestic or sexual violence or who have family or household members who are victims of such violence to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per any 12 month period to seek medical help, legal assistance, counseling, safety planning, and other assistance.
More information about this law can be found in the table of domestic violence laws we created which can be found here. Also, check out Victims' Economic Security and Safety Act (VESSA) - Conciliation and Mediation Division (illinois.gov).
Effective January 1, 2022, the amended VESSA law:
- Adds “crime of violence” as an additional leave reason.
- Employees may take leave if they or their family or household members are victims of a “crime of violence” (in addition to domestic, sexual or gender violence already permitted).
- “Crime of violence” is defined as homicide, sex offenses, bodily harm, harassment and obscene communication, terrorism and armed violence.
- Expands definition of ”sexual violence” to include sexual assault.
- Expands covered family and household members for whom the employee can take leave. Currently, a “family or household member” includes spouses, parents, children, persons related by blood or by present or prior marriage, persons who share a relationship through a son or daughter, and persons jointly residing in the same household. As of January 1, 2022, the definition of “family or household member” will be expanded further and will also include:
- Parties to a civil union
- Any other person related by civil union, or
- Any other individual whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship as determined by the employee
- Adds consecutive leave in addition to previously permitted intermittent or reduced work schedule leave.
- Modifies the Certification Process. Under the amendments, an employee may choose any one of the following documents in the employee’s possession, accompanied by the employee’s sworn statement, to support his or her leave request:
- Documentation from the employee, agent or volunteer of a victim services organization, an attorney, a member of the clergy or a medical or other professional from whom the employee or the employee’s family or household member has sought assistance,
- A police or court record, or
- Other corroborating evidence
- These categories were identified in the prior version of VESSA, but the amendments now specifically provide that the employee may choose which document to provide along with his or her sworn statement and clarifies that the employee provide if he or she is in possession of such a document.
- Under the amendments, employers may not request or require submission of more than one document during the same 12-month period leave is requested or taken if the reason for leave is related to the same incident(s) of violence or the same perpetrator(s) of the violence.
- Expands Nondiscrimination Provisions Against Perceived Victims. The amendments expand the discrimination prohibitions to include anyone who is perceived to be a victim or has a family or household member who is perceived to be a victim of domestic violence, sexual violence, gender violence or any other crime of violence.
- Adds New Confidentiality Provisions. The amendments require that any information, documentation, records, corroborating evidence and the fact that the employee has requested or obtained an accommodation pursuant to VESSA be kept in the “strictest confidence” unless:
- The employee requests or consents to disclosures in writing; or
- Disclosure is required under applicable federal or state laws.
Pings for Employers
State laws that protect employees who themselves or whose family members are victims of domestic and similar crimes are proliferating. Employers should be aware of these protections and their various state obligations and take steps to ensure compliance. While Matrix will assist by managing an employee's need for time off, an employer's obligations don't stop there. We recommend:
- Train your supervisors to be aware of these laws generally and to refer an employee with a possible need for leave or a job accommodation to Human Resources. You can use our table of domestic violence laws located here as a training resource.
To comply with the Illinois VESSA amendments as of January 1:
- Be sure to revise policies and procedures to reflect the changes:
- Employees may take leave for other "crimes of violence" in addition to domestic, sexual or gender violence for covered employees. Employees may take leave if their "family or household members" falls into the expanded definition.
- Train Human Resources so they are aware that employees now have the option to select what categories of "Employee Documentation" they wish to provide to support a leave request, and that, the employer cannot require or request more than one document (plus the employee statement) in a 12-month period for the same incident(s) of violence or the same perpetrator(s) of the violence.
- Take steps to keep separate and confidential information, documentation, records, or corroborating evidence provided by the employee in support of this leave request.
- Remember, VESSA still entitles employees to reasonable work-related accommodations to address the needs of the victim(s). Accommodations may include, but are not limited to, an adjustment to the job structure, workplace facility, work requirements, or telephone number, seating assignment, or physical security of the work area. See DOL IL VESSA. Many other states have similar requirements in their domestic violence laws.
MATRIX CAN HELP! At Matrix we're always monitoring state legislatures to keep an eye on the state leave landscape. The Illinois VESSA amendments will be included in our suite of state leave of absence laws Matrix manages. Our trained staff of absence management experts specialize in understanding the intersection of state and federal leave protections. We take various steps to maintain an employee's (or victim's) privacy and safety. For example, we administer these domestic and sexual violence laws under the name "Personal Protected Leave." For more information about our leave management and accommodation solutions, contact your Matrix/Reliance Standard account manager now, or send us a message at [email protected].