The Latest From Chicago: Anti-Retaliation, Fair Workweek, and Food Delivery Disclosures

While warm weather has finally hit Chicago, Mayor Lightfoot, the City Council and Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) have not taken a spring break. The below summarizes the latest ordinances, and regulations from the Windy City:

Anti-Retaliation Ordinance

The Chicago City Council passed the COVID-19 Anti-Retaliation Ordinance last week, which prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for obeying a public health order requiring an employee to stay home due to coronavirus.

The Ordinance prohibits employers from demoting or terminating a Covered Employee for obeying an order issued by the Mayor, the Governor of Illinois, the Chicago Department of Public Health, or, in the case of (2), (3), and (4) below, a treating healthcare provider, requiring the Covered Employee to:

  • Stay at home to minimize the transmission of COVID-19;
  • Remain at home while experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or sick with COVID-19;
  • Obey a quarantine order issued to the Covered Employee;
  • Obey an isolation order issued to the Covered Employee; and
  • Obey an order issued by the Commissioner of Health regarding the duties
  • of hospitals and other congregate facilities

Employees subject to demotion or termination may recover reinstatement, damages equal to three times the full amount of wages that would have been owed had the retaliatory action not taken place, actual damages, and attorneys’ fees. Violations may also lead to fines of up to $1,000 per offense per day.

The ordinance is effective immediately.

Fair Workweek Ordinance

Chicago’s Fair Workweek Ordinance is set to take effect on July 1, 2020. Ahead of the effective date, the BACP has issued rules for implementing the ordinance, and a supplemental rule for implementation during the pandemic.

The Ordinance requires covered employers to post work schedules at least 10 days in advance, and provide additional pay if work schedules are changed without advanced notice. However, the Ordinance creates an exception where the work schedule change is “because of” a pandemic. BACP’s supplemental rule clarifies that the COVID-19 outbreak qualifies as a “pandemic” for the purposes of this exception, and will remain a “pandemic” until the Mayor’s Executive Order declaring a state of emergency is repealed.    

However, a work schedule change will be considered “because” of the pandemic only when the pandemic causes the employer to materially change its operating hours, operating plan, or the goods or services provided by the employer, resulting in the work schedule change. Further, the exception applies only to the work schedule during which the change occurs, and the work schedule immediately following.

Additionally, while the substantive requirements of the Ordinance will still go into effect on July 1, 2020 and may still be enforced by the City, individual employees will not be allowed to file lawsuits for violations of the ordinance occurring before January 1, 2021.

New Rules for Third Party Food Delivery Companies

Mayor Lightfoot and the BACP announced new rules earlier this month for third-party food delivery companies to increase transparency and fair competition. Effective Friday, May 22nd, all third-party delivery companies must disclose the following to customers, in a “clear and conspicuous manner”:

  • the menu price of the food;
  • any sales or other tax applied to the transaction;
  • any delivery charge or service fee, imposed on or collected from the customer by the third-party food delivery service or by the covered establishment, in addition to the menu price of the food;
  • any tip that will be paid to the person delivering the food, and not to the third-party food delivery service, to be added into the transaction when it occurs, and
  • any commission associated with the transaction.

The disclosure requirements apply to all websites, mobile applications or other internet services that offer or arrange the sale of food or beverages by a restaurant, bar or other food-serving establishments. The measure is intended to promote transparency and fair competition, as many restaurants are increasing relying on third-party delivery services to stay afloat during the pandemic.

While the rules were promulgated in response to the pandemic, these new rules will be in place permanently.

Guidance for Restaurants Applying COVID Surcharges

The City of Chicago issued a guidance for restaurants charging COVID-related surcharges to customers, reminding restaurants that the City’s restaurant tax is .50%, and any surcharge customers are required to pay is considered taxable and should be included in the basis upon which the restaurant tax is calculated. Additionally, a COVID surcharge is not a tax and should not be designated as such on any price list or invoice.

Can Employers Require High Risk Employees to Stay Home? Latest EEOC Guidance on Interpreting the ADA During the Pandemic

The CDC has identified a number of medical conditions that might place individuals at “higher risk for severe illness” if they get COVID-19. The EEOC has recently provided updated guidance on how employers should treat employees in this category. To summarize the EEOC guidance, while employees may request to stay home, and employers are required to consider whether that would be a reasonable accommodation, employers cannot require high risk employees to stay home unless they have requested to do so or their reporting to work would rise to the level of a “direct threat.”

What if an employer already knows an employee is at higher risk? Can the employer require the employee to stay home?

Generally, no. Even if the employer is concerned about the employee’s health, the employer cannot take any adverse action against the employee (such as requiring the employee to stay home) on the basis of being higher risk, unless the employee’s disability rises to the level of a “direct threat” to his or her health that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation.

“Direct threat” is a high standard to meet.  It requires an individualized assessment based on a reasonable medical judgment about the employee’s disability – and cannot be based solely on the employee’s disability being listed on the CDC list. If the employee’s disability does pose a direct threat, the employer must attempt to provide a reasonable accommodation such as telework or reassignment before excluding the employee from the workplace.

Can employers ask employees if they have a disability that might put them at higher risk?

The EEOC has not provided clear guidance on this issue, so we currently are recommending against asking employees if they have a disability that might put them at higher risk.  However, it is would be permissible to inform employees generally that if they have a disability that would put them at higher risk, and they wish to request a reasonable accommodation (which could include staying home), that the employer would be happy to consider such requests.

In a previous guidance issued by the EEOC in response to flu pandemics, the agency cautioned against asking about medical conditions that might put employees at higher risk.  However, the EEOC did not close the door entirely on such inquiries.  The guidance stated that if a pandemic “becomes more severe or serious according to the assessment of local, state or federal public health officials, ADA-covered employers may have sufficient objective information from public health advisories to reasonably conclude that employees will face a direct threat if they contract pandemic influenza.” It’s possible that the current COVID-19 pandemic may fit the situation that the EEOC described, but the EEOC has not yet provided clarification.

In the absence of definitive guidance from the EEOC, there are significant risks involved in making disability-related inquiries, including the risk of claims after the pandemic based on the employer’s knowledge of an employee’s disability. Accordingly, we recommend employers avoid making these inquiries until the EEOC provides further guidance.

Employers may ask employees if they have symptoms of coronavirus or have tested positive.  Additionally, employers may invite employees to voluntarily disclose any underlying condition that make them vulnerable to the coronavirus, so that the employer may provide any necessary reasonable accommodations.

Do employers have to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who have a higher risk from COVID-19?

Potentially, yes, if the employee’s higher risk is due to a preexisting condition rising to the level of a disability and the accommodation does not cause an undue hardship. See our previous guidance on reasonable accommodations here.

Illinois Workers’ Compensation Emergency Rules Rescinded

As we previously reported, in April, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission enacted emergency rules creating a presumption that employees of essential business that contract coronavirus were exposed in the workplace for purposes of workers’ compensation liability.

Business groups immediately challenged the change, and a judge temporarily blocked enforcement of the emergency rules, saying that the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission exceeded its authority when it enacted the rules.

Now, the emergency rules have been rescinded, but both Governor Pritzker and the Commission have indicated that they will renew their efforts to ensure that workers’ compensation is available to employees who contract COVID-19.

Employers should continue to follow CDC and OHSA guidance to maintain a safe working environment for all employees or in planning for reopening.

New Required Poster and Other Key Takeaways for Employers from Illinois’ New Stay-At-Home Order

On April 30, Governor Pritzker issued an executive order extending Illinois’ Stay-at-Home mandate to May 30. The order, effective May 1, also contains a number of new requirements for employers. The key takeaways are below:

1. All Employers with Employees On-Site Must Post New Safety Poster

Any business with employees physically reporting to the work site must post guidance regarding workplace safety during the COVID-19 emergency. The required posting is available here.

Additional workplace safety posters are available from OSHA and the CDC.

2. Employers Should Facilitate Remote Work “When Possible”

All businesses must evaluate whether employees are able to work from home and are encouraged to facilitate remote work from home when possible.

3. Employers Must Provide Face Coverings to Employees Where Social Distancing Unavailable

Employer must provide employees with appropriate face coverings and require that employees wear face coverings where maintaining a six-foot social distance is not possible. When work circumstances require, employers must provide employees with other protective equipment in addition to face coverings.

4. New Social Distancing Guidelines for Manufacturers

Essential manufacturers that continue to operate are required to follow social distancing requirements and take “appropriate precautions.” These precautions may include:

      • providing face coverings to all employees who are not able to maintain a minimum six-foot social distance at all times;
      • staggering shifts;
      • reducing line speeds;
      • operating only essential lines, while shutting down non-essential lines;
      • ensuring that all spaces where employees may gather, including locker rooms and lunchrooms, allow for social distancing; and
      • downsizing operations to the extent necessary to allow for social distancing and to provide a safe workplace in response to the COVID-19 emergency.

5. New Social Distancing Guidelines for Retail Stores

Essential retail stores that continue to operate must comply with the following requirements to the greatest extent possible:

      • provide face coverings to all employees who are not able to maintain a minimum six-foot social distance at all times;
      • cap occupancy at 50 percent of store capacity, or, alternatively, at the occupancy limits based on store square footage set by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity;
      • set up store aisles to be one-way where practicable to maximize spacing between customers and identify the one-way aisles with conspicuous signage and/or floor markings;
      • communicate with customers through in-store signage, and public service announcements and advertisements, about the social distancing requirements set forth in this Order (Social Distancing Requirements); and
      • discontinue use of reusable bags.

Non-essential retail stores may reopen for the limited purposes of fulfilling telephone and online orders through pick-up outside the store and delivery. Employees working in the store must follow social distancing requirements and must wear a face covering when they may come within six feet of another employee or a customer.