Cook County, which includes the city of Chicago, has enacted a new ordinance requiring employers to provide paid time off for employees to become vaccinated. This new ordinance, dubbed “COVID-19 Vaccination Rights for Employees and Prohibition of Retaliation by Employers,” provides several protections for employees and more than a few areas of confusion.
This ordinance forbids employers from taking adverse action against employees for taking time from work to receive a vaccine. This includes imposing any consequences related to workplace attendance policies due to the absence.
If an employer mandates a vaccination, the employer must pay employees for the time spent getting the vaccination up to four hours for every shot. Due to the requirement to receive the vaccine, an employer is not allowed to mandate the use of sick leave or paid time off.
If the employer does not mandate vaccinations, then they are not required to pay employees for the time they spend receiving the vaccination. However, an employee could use paid time off to cover the time spent if they choose.
Additionally, whether or not they require a vaccination, employers are not allowed to require the employee to receive the vaccination during non-work hours. They also are prohibited from requiring employees to find someone to cover their shift during the time they receive the vaccine.
There are ambiguous points in these requirements, starting with its coverage limitations. According to the ordinance, it applies to all employers that either are principally located in Cook County or do business within it. The ordinance further specifies that if an employer meets either of these qualifications, the ordinance will apply to all employees.
This requirement does not place any limitations on coverage, so though it can probably be assumed to apply only to employees located within the county, this is unclear. This will need resolution in the future, but as of now, it may be best to consult legal counsel.
Additionally, the Act specifies that it applies to volunteers and those in training and apprenticeship programs. Very often, these two classifications are unpaid and receive no formal benefits of any kind. This leaves adverse employment actions generally impossible for these types of employees. The most likely interpretation may be that such employees should simply be excused free of any repercussions for the time spent receiving a vaccine.
Violations of the ordinance will be punishable by between $100 to $500 for every offense as well as providing attorneys fees. Employees have a private right of action for any offenses and may recover monetary and non-monetary damages, including reinstatement.