CHICAGO— October 1, 2009. The Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL) is highlighting recent changes to a labor law that protects victims of domestic or sexual violence from discrimination in the workplace. Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation on August 24, 2009, amending the Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act (VESSA) to expand protections to more Illinois workers who are affected by domestic or sexual violence. Gov. Quinn also proclaimed October as Domestic Violence Awareness month in Illinois to create greater awareness of domestic violence prevention.
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 assistance and counseling. Illinois is one of 16 states to have statutes or ordinances providing non-discrimination and/or leave provisions specifically for victims of domestic or sexual violence.
“As October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Department reminds communities that help is available to those who fear losing their jobs because they need to take time off from work to address the domestic violence in their lives. VESSA has now been expanded to protect even more employees in Illinois, so it is especially important that employers and employees are aware of the law’s requirements,” said Catherine Shannon, Director, Illinois Department of Labor.
IDOL will be stepping up its outreach efforts to inform the public about VESSA through information-sharing sessions scheduled for Chicago, Bloomington, Belleville and Mount Vernon during the month of October. IDOL has already notified hundreds of employer groups, women’s groups, community organizations, social service agencies and advocates against domestic violence of the revised law. The Department will also send advisory notices to all employers with 15 or more employees in Illinois to ensure smaller businesses are aware that the law now applies to them. To increase awareness among diverse communities throughout Illinois, IDOL will distribute multi-lingual radio Public Service Announcements (PSAs) in Spanish and Polish, in addition to English.
Recent changes to the VESSA law include:
• The Act now applies to any person that employs at least 15 (rather than 50) employees, in addition to the State, any agency of the State, any unit of local government or school district. Employees working for an employer with at least 15 but not more than 49 employees are allowed 8 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period. Employees working for an employer with at least 50 employees are still entitled to a total of 12 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period.
• For employees with a family or household member who is a victim of domestic or sexual violence, the definition of “family or household member” has been expanded to include persons related by blood or by present or prior marriage and persons who share a relationship through a son or daughter. The Act continues to cover a spouse, parent, son, daughter and persons residing in the same household.
• VESSA now explicitly states that employers may not require employees to substitute available paid or unpaid leave for the leave permitted under VESSA.
For many victims of domestic and sexual violence, abuse experienced at home often follows them to the workplace where they are harassed with threatening phone calls and/or emails. The employee may become less productive due to abuse-related stress or may be unable to work due to physical injuries. VESSA allows an employee who is a victim of domestic or sexual violence to take unpaid leave to obtain medical attention or counseling for physical or psychological injuries, participate in safety planning, including relocation, and seek legal assistance to ensure their health and safety.
If an employer is found to have violated VESSA, IDOL may require the employer to pay damages equal to the amount of wages, employment benefits, or other compensation denied or lost with interest, or provide equitable relief, such as reinstatement, promotion, reasonable accommodations and attorney’s fees. Additionally, if the employer fails to pay damages within 30 days after an order is entered, the employer is liable to pay the employee a penalty of 1 percent each calendar day for delay in payment.
Employers are prohibited from discharging, harassing or otherwise discriminating against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because the individual is, or is perceived to be, a victim of domestic or sexual violence, or exercises his or her rights under the Act. Any employee who believes his or her rights have been violated may file a complaint within three years after the alleged violation by calling (312) 793-6797, or by visiting www.state.il.us/agency/idol.
The text of Governor Quinn’s proclamation is below.
WHEREAS, domestic violence is a prevalent social problem that not only harms the victim, but also negatively affects the victim’s family, friends and community at large; and
WHEREAS, domestic violence knows no boundaries. It exists in all neighborhoods and cities, and affects people of all ages, racial, ethnic, economic, and religious backgrounds; and
WHEREAS, one in four women will experience domestic violence sometime in her life. In Illinois alone, there are approximately 115,000 to 125,000 domestic crimes each year; and
WHEREAS, for many victims of domestic violence, abuse experienced at home often follows them to the workplace, when they are harassed by threatening phone calls and/or emails; and
WHEREAS, the health-related costs of rape, physical assault, stalking, and homicide by intimate partners amount to nearly $6 billion every year, and the annual cost of lost productivity in the workplace due to domestic violence is estimated to be hundreds of millions of dollars, with nearly 8 million paid workdays lost per year; and
WHEREAS, the Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act -- VESSA provides workplace protections specifically for victims of domestic or sexual violence; and
WHEREAS, on August 24 of this year, I signed legislation amending VESSA to expand protections to more Illinois workers who are affected by domestic or sexual violence; and;
WHEREAS, VESSA, which is enforced by the Illinois Department of Labor, 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, up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave in any 12-month period; and
WHEREAS, the Illinois Department of Human Services is dedicated to ensuring that Illinois residents live free from domestic violence, promoting prevention, and working in partnership with communities to advance equality, dignity, and respect for all; and
WHEREAS, the Illinois Department of Human Services supports dozens of multi-service domestic violence programs throughout the state, offering counseling and advocacy, legal assistance, children’s services, and shelter and support services at no cost to the victim; and
WHEREAS, throughout the month of October, the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence and its 54 member organizations will hold numerous events across the state in observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, including Silent Witness events, candlelight vigils, and marches:
THEREFORE, I, Pat Quinn, Governor of the State of Illinois, do hereby proclaim October 2009 as DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AWARENESS MONTH in Illinois, to raise awareness about the problem of domestic violence throughout the state and its devastating effects on families and communities, and to urge all victims to seek help either by calling the Statewide Domestic Violence Helpline, 1-877-TO END DV (1-877-863-6338) or visiting a local help center.