A new Ordinance in the city of Chicago will prohibit Chicago employers from firing or disciplining workers who leave work to get a COVID-19 vaccine during the workers’ normally scheduled work hours. The Chicago City Council unanimously approved the Ordinance on April 21, 2021, and the Ordinance goes into effect immediately.

Who does this affect?

Essentially, the Ordinance applies to all employers and workers in the city of Chicago, including non-employees who are independent contractors and performing services for a company in Chicago. Under the Ordinance, an “employer” means “any natural individual, firm, trust, partnership, association, joint venture, corporation or other legal entity who engages the services of at least one individual for payment.”  The Ordinance defines “worker” as “an individual that performs work for an Employer, including as an employee or as an independent contractor.”

What are the new rules?

Under the Ordinance, regardless of whether the COVID-19 vaccine is voluntarily sought or required by the employer, an employer cannot require that the worker get the vaccine only during the worker’s non-scheduled work hours.  And, if a worker does take time off during the worker’s normally scheduled work hours to get the COVID-19 vaccine, an employer cannot take any adverse action (e.g. discipline or terminate) against a worker for doing so.

Under the Ordinance, if a worker has company-provided paid sick leave and/or other company-provided paid time off accrued or otherwise available, and the worker specifically requests to use that time to get the vaccine, the employer must allow the worker to use the paid leave for that purpose.  

However, if the employer requires that workers get the COVID-19 vaccine, the employer must pay workers for the time, up to four hours per dose, it takes the worker to get the vaccine, at the worker’s regular rate of pay, but only if the vaccine appointment is during the individual’s normally scheduled work hours.  And, if the employer does mandate that workers get the COVID-19 vaccine, the employer cannot require that workers use company-provided paid time off and/or paid sick leave (e.g. under the Chicago Paid Sick Leave Ordinance) for the time off needed to get the vaccine.

An employer that takes an adverse action, such as discipline or termination, against a worker who leaves work during the employee’s normally scheduled work hours to get the vaccine will be deemed to have engaged in retaliation against the worker. It is unclear at this time what, if any, advance notice the worker must provide the employer.

What is the penalty to employers for violation?

An employer who violates the Ordinance is liable for a fine between $1,000 and $5,000 per offense. The Chicago Commissioner of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection or the Director of Labor Standards are vested with authority to take action against the employer by instituting an action in administrative hearings or requesting Chicago Corporation Counsel to take action in court against the employer. In addition to the fine, if the employer fired the worker, the worker is entitled to reinstatement to the same or an equivalent position, damages equal to three times the amount of wages lost, as well as any actual damages incurred, and costs and attorneys’ fees.

If you are an employer and have questions about how these changes affect you, please contact an attorney in Greensfelder’s Employment & Labor Practice Group.