When it takes effect next year, a law signed Monday by Gov. J.B. Pritzker could allow 1.5 million workers to avoid making the hard choice between earning pay or staying home sick.
Come next year, the law will mandate nearly all Illinois employers give their workers a minimum of five paid days off, for any reason.
“Can you imagine people in this state cannot take a sick day without being penalized or losing their pay?” asked state Sen. Kim Lightford, D-Maywood. “Let’s think about that for just a second. Imagine your child’s down with the flu, a bad cold or even COVID and you are one of these millions of people. You have to consider: Should I leave my child home alone? Or risk losing my job?”
Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton said she was thankful to not have to make those hard choices thanks to the support of her employer during the years she served as her dementia-ailed mom’s caretaker.
“But there are far too many Illinoisans who are put between a rock and a hard place when life happens, and life does happen to all of us,” Stratton said. “Too many who feel they have to choose between their job and their loved ones, and honestly that is a false choice.”
Stratton and Pritzker say that’s bad for a workers’ wellbeing, and bad for their work product.
“Employers benefit from allowing employees to tend to the urgent personal matters of their lives. Workers’ productivity increases and they often gain greater passion for their job when they can manage the stresses that they face outside of work more easily,” Pritzker said.
Major business groups, like the state retail merchants’ association and the manufacturers’ group, backed the measure (Senate Bill 302 / Public Act 102-1143) but many small businesses do not.
Often, state law makes an exemption for firms with less than a few dozen employees.
That’s not the case with this policy. While previous versions exempted firms with five or fewer workers, the law only excludes those who work for Illinois school and park districts.
“Small businesses are struggling. They’ve essentially been told the last three years that they are not essential in the state of Illinois. They are facing tremendous headwinds currently — still recovering from the pandemic, they’re facing generational inflation, they’re facing supply chain issues, there’s a shortage of workers,” said Chris Davis, who heads the National Federation of Independent Businesses’ Illinois chapter. “They’re struggling to keep their doors open right now. In fact, you see across the state many are restricting their hours of operation and finding it very difficult to meet the needs of their customers and clients.”
Davis said most small business owners consider their employees family, and will work with them when circumstances arise.
He said small businesses have limited resources, and could have a hard time reconciling the new paid leave law with other state mandates that require time off for situations like bereavement. Many businesses aren’t technically equipped to track hours in a fashion that documents when they’ve worked enough to be owed paid leave time, he said.
“Most small businesses don’t have broad-ranging policies, they don’t have a human resources department to implement a bunch of policies,” Davis said. “Small business, with part-time employees will now have the burden of tracking the hours that their employees work to be sure that they have accounted for the amount of paid time off that that individual has accrued.”
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