Chicago employment law covers a wide range of employment-related issues. Even though Illinois is an at-will work state, meaning that employers and employees are free to terminate their relationship for no reason, there is still a wide framework of federal and state laws that provide employees protection in the workplace.
It’s common to assume that labor law issues, such as collective bargaining and right to strike, fall under Chicago employment law as well. However, labor law is a separate area of law. Here are some of the common areas that are covered under employment law.
Both federal and state laws prohibit employers from discriminating against certain employees in the areas of hiring, pay, promotions, and terminations. There are various federal laws that prohibit discriminating on the basis of color, sex, age, or disability. Examples of relevant federal employment laws are the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
However, most federal laws also only apply to employers with minimum numbers of employees. Illinois has passed the Illinois Human Rights Act, which also provides employees protection from employer discrimination.
Terms of Employment
There are also numerous state and federal laws that set out minimum requirements regarding the terms under which employees must work. Minimum wage and overtime pay laws are one example of this type of law. These laws also concern issues like health care, the number of work hours, and required benefits such as vacation and medical leave. Terms and conditions of severance can also fall in this area.
Relevant federal laws include the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. Some relevant Illinois laws are the Illinois Prevailing Wage Act, the Illinois Minimum Wage Act, and the Illinois Mini-COBRA Act, which pertains to the extension of health benefits after an employee has been terminated.
Employers are also obligated to provide their employees with a safe workplace. Most people assume that workplace safety laws only apply to people working in relatively dangerous workplaces, such as construction sites or coal mines. However, every employer from office to laboratory must provide a safe work environment.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the main federal regulatory agency that inspects workplaces and enforces federal workplace safety laws. Many employers also have workers’ compensation insurance, which makes it easier for employees to recover damages for accidents or illnesses developed due to their work conditions but also limits the scope of damages they can recover.
A growing area of employment law touches on issues of employee privacy. Generally, employees have no expectation of privacy in the workplace, which is why employers have great latitude to require drug tests or monitor employee use of computers. However, employers are also seeking to regulate offsite behavior, such as whether employees can smoke on personal time, which is leading to greater legal scrutiny.
Beyond Federal and State Laws
The last critical point to understand about general Chicago employment law is that employers can obligate themselves even beyond what the law requires. When employers develop internal policies and procedures, courts have generally found that they can be held liable for failing to follow their own policies.