Expanded Leave Under The Victims' Economic Security and Safety Act, and Greater Restrictions and Requirements Imposed on Employers
Under the Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act (“VESSA”), Illinois employees who are victims of gender, domestic, or sexual violence, or who have family or household members who are victims of gender, domestic, or sexual violence, are permitted to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to seek medical help, legal assistance, counseling, safety planning and any other assistance. Employees who believe that their rights have been violated under the statute may pursue a claim against the employer before the IDOL and seek damages in the form of lost compensation, equitable relief, reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.
As of January 1, 2022, VESSA: (i) expanded protections to victims of general crimes of violence, in addition to victims of crimes of gender, domestic, or sexual violence; (ii) broadened the scope of individuals who may qualify as a “family or household member” of an employee under the statute; (iii) expanded non-discrimination protections to “perceived” victims of crimes of violence, in addition to actual victims of crimes of violence; (iv) limited the extent to which an employer may request documentation regarding an employee’s need for VESSA leave; and (v) required employers to retain documentation related to VESSA requests under the “strictest confidence.” Each of the relevant amendments to VESSA is further addressed below.
Qualifying Reasons for Leave are Expanded to Include General “Crimes of Violence”In addition to victims of crimes of domestic, gender, or sexual violence, victims of more general “crimes of violence,” including crimes related to homicide, sex offenses, bodily harm, harassing or obscene communications, terrorism, and armed violence, are also now eligible for leave under VESSA.
VESSA Leave May be Taken for a Broader Group of “Family or Household Members”Under the amended version of VESSA, the “family or household member” of an employee now includes a party to a civil union, grandparent, child, grandchild, sibling; any person related by blood or by present or prior marriage or civil union; any person who shares a relationship through a child; or any other individual whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship as determined by the employee.
“Perceived” Victims of Crimes of Violence Are Eligible for VESSA LeaveThe non-discrimination provisions of VESSA have been expanded to protect, in addition to actual victims of crimes of violence, applicants and employees who are perceived as having been victims of crimes of violence.
The Employer’s Right to Request Documentation is Limited, while the Employee’s Right to Choose which Documents to Submit is ExpandedBefore the amended version of the statute went into effect, employers were permitted to require employees to submit sworn statements and specific documentation in support of the need to take VESSA Leave.
Under the amended version of the statute, however, employers may only request such documentation if the employee possesses such documents.
Beyond that, employees may elect to choose which document(s) to submit and an employer may not request or require more than one document to be submitted during the same 12-month period during which a particular leave is requested or taken.