CHICAGO — As October marks Domestic Violence Awareness month, the Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL) issued a reminder about a state law that provides protections to victims of domestic or sexual violence from discrimination in the workplace.
The Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act (VESSA) allows employees who are victims of domestic or sexual violence or who have a family or household member who is a victim of domestic or sexual violence with up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave in any 12-month period to seek medical attention, legal advice and counseling.
For many victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, abuse experienced at home follows them to the workplace when he or she is harassed by threatening phone calls and emails. Eventually the employee becomes less productive due to abuse-related stress or is absent because of physical injuries. VESSA aims to provide employees with the financial independence necessary to leave abusive situations, without fear of losing their jobs.
Governor Rod R. Blagojevich signed VESSA into law on Aug. 25, 2003 effective immediately, making Illinois one of only a handful of states with workplace protections specifically for victims of domestic or sexual violence.
“Domestic and sexual violence have severe economic consequences on both employees and employers. The Illinois Department of Labor continues to conduct VESSA awareness to ensure that communities are aware of this law and its requirements. We are the only agency in the state that is responsible for enforcing this important law and we take this responsibility very seriously,” said IDOL Director Art Ludwig.
VESSA requires employers to help a worker who has been a victim of domestic or sexual violence with accommodations that may include a modified work schedule or a transfer to a different location or department. IDOL conducts training seminars on domestic violence awareness to educate workers, employers and the general public on how to prevent discrimination in the workplace.
In 2004, the Governor through IDOL launched a statewide awareness campaign to educate the public about protecting victims of domestic violence from discrimination in the workplace by working with domestic and sexual assault service providers, health care providers, human resource professionals, community organizations and businesses. The Department created multi-lingual VESSA Public Service Announcements (PSAs) in Spanish, Polish, Ukrainian, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Hindi and Urdu, and developed VESSA informational brochures. The Department also conducted employee-employer VESSA training seminars throughout the state, providing details on the law’s requirements and protections, and how to file a complaint with the Department.
On September 21, 2006, the Governor announced more than $20 million in grants to support prevention efforts and services for victims of domestic and sexual crimes throughout Illinois and highlighted $2 million in funding for the Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW) that will help launch a comprehensive Anti-Violence Initiative to fight against human trafficking, domestic violence, sexual assault, the sex trade, street harassment and other forms of gender based violence.
Employers with 50 or more employees are subject to VESSA including the State of Illinois and any unit of local government or school district and are prohibited from discharging, harassing or otherwise discriminating against any employee with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.
Any employee who believes his or her rights have been violated may file a complaint within three years after the alleged violation occurs with IDOL at (312) 793-6797, or by visiting http://www.state.il.us/agency/idol. If you are a victim of domestic or sexual violence, call the Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).