This week’s post was co-authored by Robinson+Cole Labor and Employment Group lawyer Jessica C. Pinto
Illinois has rung in the new year by mandating some of the most progressive employee leave requirements in the nation. Effective January 1, 2024, Illinois’s Paid Leave for All Workers Act will require nearly all Illinois employers to provide employees with paid leave that can be used for any reason – the first state in the Midwest to mandate such a law.
While once unheard of, Illinois now joins two states – Maine and Nevada- in mandating that covered employers provide employees with paid time off. Several local jurisdictions have also enacted similar ordinances, including Bernalillo County (New Mexico), Cook County (Illinois), and Chicago. It remains to be seen whether this trend will gain traction elsewhere in the country.
So, where did these new paid leave laws originate? Several laws were first fashioned as paid sick leave laws but were subsequently amended to include more expansive language allowing for paid time off for “any reason.” These prior sick leave laws typically permitted employees to take time off for medical-related needs, such as receiving treatment for a medical condition or caring for a family member, among other things. These new laws enable employees to use leave for any reason, which is a significant departure.
The shift towards mandatory paid leave laws lies in public policy aimed at providing employees with economic security and increased wellness. Illinois’s law cites the central reasons for its passage as providing employment and economic security for employees and safeguarding the welfare, health, safety, and prosperity of the people of Illinois. Government officials indicate that Illinois law provides more protection and flexibility for its workers, allowing employees to protect their employment when faced with the unpredictability of life.
Specifically, Illinois’s Paid Leave for All Workers Act enables Illinois workers to earn and use up to a minimum of 40 hours of paid leave per any 12-month period without any accompanying documentation to explain their reason for doing so. The law is applicable to most Illinois workers, with few exceptions related to certain short-term student-workers and employees in higher education and certain railroad or carrier workers, among others. Illinois workers will earn one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked, with accrual beginning upon the start of employment or January 1, 2024, whichever is later. Notably, employees can carry over unused, accrued leave to the following year, but employers are not obliged to provide more than 40 hours of paid leave in a year. In the alternative, employers may choose to frontload paid leave by providing a full year’s worth of leave at the beginning of the year that satisfies the minimum requirements of Illinois law. However, employers that choose to frontload may adopt use-it-or-lose-it policies. Eligible employees may use earned time off for any reason after 90 days of employment; employees hired before January 1, 2024, can begin using earned time off starting March 31, 2024.
Given the new trends in legislation mandating vacation or paid time off, employers should consider reviewing their policies to confirm that they are compliant with applicable state and local laws in jurisdictions where they employ workers.