CHICAGO – As 2016 approaches, many new labor and employment laws are set to take effect come January 1. Because the bulk of the legal changes will occur at the state and local levels, legal observers advised employers to stay informed of important changes that may affect their employment practice.

Laws in Illinois will be implemented that affect a number of employment areas, from veterans hiring to fertility benefits.

According to Darren Mungerson, a shareholder at Littler Mendelson, the most significant change that will occur in 2016 involves the minimum wage requirement.

“I think that one of the more interesting things that Illinois employers should be expecting is a state law regarding minimum wage,” said Mungerson.

Although there currently is no law altering the statewide minimum wage, Mungerson predicts that this legislation will come in 2016, specifically through the passage of Senate Bill 11, which passed the Senate but hasn’t seen action since April of 2015. The bill establishes a yearly minimum wage increase until 2019, where it will reach $11.00 per hour.

“That bill also included something interesting, it said 'No, there won’t be any sort of home rule allowed,' so most jurisdictions – your Napervilles, your Auroras – wouldn’t be able to institute their own minimum wage laws if this bill gets passed," he said.

According to Mungerson, SB 11 includes an exception for the Chicago Minimum Wage ordinance, which raised the minimum wage to $10.50.

Mungerson predicts Chicago’s Minimum Wage Ordinance may be followed by legal challenges.

“The main thing that I see is that there are inconsistencies within the written language of the ordinance, and the regulations that the [Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP)] has issued,” said Mungerson.

He predicted the BACP may claim that employers following the ordinance are in violation of department regulations.

“There is a significant discrepancy with what the regulation says, and what the ordinance says,” said Mungerson. “They are basically incompatible.”

Regarding other new laws, Mungerson said that most are uncontroversial, as a number merely close loopholes.

House Bill 3619 expands coverage of the state’s Equal Pay law to include all employers, even those with fewer than four employees, and increases the violation penalty. Mungerson said because certain sexual harassment claims and other equal treatment laws already apply to these employees, this kind of legislation has been on employers' radar for a while.

“I infer that this will be something that does impact some employers, but I treat this as more of closing a loophole than affecting some large scope of the employment population," Mungerson said. 

House Bill 3122 gives hiring preference to veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, allowing employers to adopt employment policies giving preference to those who have served in the military and their relatives.

According to Mungerson, as long as employers provide notification of this policy before implementing it, and consistently apply it, the bill will act as additional defense against potential discrimination claims.

“We’ve got veterans. They are making a sacrifice to this country, they are providing for us,” said Mungerson. “This is just a step up over the past years to show a lot of appreciation for the efforts that veterans provide to the state.”

Senate Bill 1571 provides an exemption from the type of medical costs employers and insurers are required to cover, specifically allowing for providers to choose not to cover the cost of medical marijuana.

Mungerson said that prior to this law, if an insurance company had a vague policy, it may have needed to provide reimbursements for medical marijuana to its employees.

“[This law] is, again, closing loopholes. Basically it says if you want to reimburse someone for it, you have the possibility of doing so. But if you choose not to do that, you are not going to be in violation of discrimination against someone with a disability,” said Mungerson. “It is basically stating that we give you permission to treat people differently, in this regard.”

Additional laws set to take effect in 2016 are Senate Bill 38, which exempts from state overtime laws certain individuals or employees that are covered by collective bargaining agreements if certain criteria are met; Senate Bill 1764, which expands the scope of mandatory infertility coverage and what constitutes as ‘infertility’ under benefit laws; and Senate Bill 1859, which requires an employment agency to provide valid licenses to employer clients.

Mungerson said employers should be aware of these laws by speaking with their labor counsels on a regular basis, and signing up for employment law newsletters.

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