Ensure your business is compliant with 2022's new legal changes

As if navigating Omicron spikes and OSHA's on-again, off-again vaccine mandate was not enough for employers, 2021 and 2022 marked significant changes in the legal landscape for Illinois businesses.

Here are the crucial action items you can take to ensure your business is compliant this year.

Regulation of noncompete and non-solicit agreements

What changed?

Effective Jan. 1, the Illinois Freedom to Work Act now voids noncompete and non-solicitation clauses entered into on or after Jan. 1 if the employees executing the agreements do not earn above certain income thresholds: noncompete restrictions (prohibiting post-employment work for a competitor) are void unless an employee earns more than $75,000 annually and non-solicitation clauses (prohibiting post-employment solicitation of the employer's customers or employees) are void unless an employee earns more than $45,000 annually.

The act also requires that employees receive "adequate consideration" in connection with signing a restrictive covenant agreement, which the act defines as at least two years of employment after the agreement is signed, or some shorter period of employment coupled with a financial or professional benefit to the employee.

Significantly, the act also provides that employees may recover attorneys' fees from employers that lose a lawsuit to enforce the covenants.

Business action item:

Employers should audit current agreements containing restrictive covenants to ensure that terms are compliant with the act. To ensure enforcement, any agreements entered into, renewed or amended on or after Jan. 1 should observe the relevant income thresholds and provide a financial or professional benefit to the employees signing.

Equal pay compliance reporting

What changed?

Beginning in 2022, Illinois businesses with more than 100 employees must obtain an equal pay certificate from the Illinois Department of Labor certifying compliance with state and federal equal pay laws.

Business action item:

Between March 2022 and March 2024, and every two years thereafter, employers must submit records to the Illinois Department of Labor, including a list of employees from the prior calendar year separated by protected categories (gender, race and ethnicity as reported on the business' most recently filed Employer Information Report EEO-1) and the total wages paid to each employee.

Expanded use of sick leave required by Illinois House Bill 158

What changed? Effective April 2021, employers must allow employees to use sick leave benefits to provide "personal care" for family members. This includes providing for a family member's basic medical, hygiene or nutritional needs and time spent providing transportation to/from medical appointments.

Business action item:

If your business offers sick leave, update your employee handbook and provide notice to employees regarding the expanded use of paid sick leave benefits.

Prohibition against disability discrimination by association

What changed?

Effective Jan. 1 Illinois' Human Rights Act was amended to prohibit discrimination against a person for their association with an individual with a disability, mirroring federal anti-discrimination law. As an example, employers would be prohibited against taking adverse action against a worker that cares for a child with a disability.

Business action item:

Employers should update handbooks and training materials to ensure that workers are advised of how to recognize, avoid, and internally report disability discrimination by association.

Additional 2022 legal notes:

• Juneteenth, or National Freedom Day, is now a paid state holiday and will be observed in 2022 on Monday, June 20.

• Minimum wage in Illinois has been increased to $12 per hour and will continue to rise to $15 per hour in 2025.

• The Victims' Economic Security and Safety Act now provides up to 12 weeks' paid leave to workers who have a "close association" with a person impacted by domestic violence and other similar trauma covered by the act.

• Employers in Cook County must record the vaccine status of each worker and conduct weekly COVID-19 testing of most unvaccinated workers.

• Illinois employers must conduct Sexual Harassment Prevention Training yearly for all employees.

Work with an employment law attorney or an HR professional to determine how best to keep your business compliant.

• Christina Hynes Mesco of Naperville is an employment law attorney at The Prinz Law Firm who offers expert guidance to clients with employment- and business-related needs.

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