SPRINGFIELD – A new Illinois law, the Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights Act, affords domestic workers protection from employment-related discrimination, and could create a significant new litigation threat for families who employ them. 

The new law, signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, protects domestic workers who are employed in private homes or residences and makes Illinois one of seven states that now have such a law. With the enactment of the Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights Act, Illinois joins New York, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Oregon as states that protect such workers.

With the new act, domestic workers have protection from discrimination and retaliation by their employers for a litany of factors under the Illinois Human Rights Act. This looks at characteristics such as age, religion, race and sexual orientation.

“I think the most significant impact of this law is that it gives them rights under the Illinois Human Rights Act,” Chicago attorney Steven J. Pearlman, partner at Proskauer Rose LLP, told the Cook County Record. “Now, in contrast to before the enactment of this law, a domestic worker can file a discrimination case, they can file a sexual harassment case, and they can file a retaliation case. Those are very significant rights that didn’t exist in the past.”

In addition, domestic workers must be paid at least the Illinois minimum wage and receive 24 hours of rest per week if they have worked more than 20 hours in a week. They also must receive a 20-minute break for every 7.5 hours worked.

The act becomes effective Jan. 1, 2017, and is expected to impact 35,000 domestic workers in Illinois, according to the Illinois Domestic Workers Coalition. A domestic worker can engage in a series of positions from housekeeping to child care and cooking and chauffeuring.

The new law will make it more important for domestic worker employers to treat their employees fairly and with the proper consideration, due to concerns that they could be sued as a result of their inappropriate actions, Pearlman said.

“When you hire a nanny or you hire someone that’s a domestic service employee, you have to be very careful that you’re treating them fairly and treating them as an employee and affording them the same sort of protection that you would afford to any other type of employee under the Illinois Human Rights Act,” said Pearlman.

For home employers this could be a change, as domestic worker employers may have a different relationship than that of a typical employer and employee.

“When people are in their homes, the practical reality is that they’re much looser with how they act and a lot less buttoned up with how they treat people and how they conduct themselves,” said Pearlman. “I think that it’s important for folks that employ domestic workers to understand that they could be hit with a lawsuit if they were to harass the worker or discriminate against the worker.”

Litigation will be a new risk for households who fail to comply with the act and find themselves in a situation where their domestic employee decides to file a lawsuit against them. This could mean costly attorney fees to defend themselves in court.

“It’s a new risk,” said Pearlman. “It’s difficult to quantify at this point. It’s a meaningful risk that people should be aware of.”

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