Illinois VESSA Leave 2.0
On August 20, 2021, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed Illinois House Bill 3582 amending the Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act (“VESSA”) to provide broader protection to employees seeking job-protected leave under VESSA. The amendments are effective January 1, 2022.
Currently, VESSA requires employers to provide employees who are victims of domestic, gender, or sexual violence (or employees with family or household members who are the victims of such violence) up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave. Like FMLA, upon returning from VESSA leave, employees are entitled, to be restored to the position they held at the time their leave began.
Illinois House Bill 3582 amends VESSA by expanding the definition of “family or household member” to include, spouses, former spouses, parties to civil unions, grandparents, children, grandchildren, siblings, other blood relatives, persons related by civil union or prior marriage, persons sharing a child, and other persons whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship as determined by the employee.
Additionally, under the current iteration of VESSA, employees and their covered relatives are only permitted to take VESSA leave to deal with instances of domestic violence, sexual violence or gender violence. Illinois House Bill 3582 expands this coverage to include all other crimes of violence. Crimes of violence include any conduct relating to homicide, sex offenses, bodily harm, harassing and obscene communications, terrorism, or armed violence as identified in Articles 9, 11, 12, 26.5, 29D, and 33A of the Criminal Code of 2012 or similar provisions of the Criminal Code of 1961.
The Amendments also modify VESSA’s documentation requirements. At this time, employers can require employees to provide certification of VESSA qualifying events in the form of: (a) documentation from the employee, agent, or volunteer of a victim services organization, an attorney, a member of the clergy, or a medical or other professional from whom the employee or the employee’s family or household member has sought assistance; (b) a police or court record; or (c) other corroborating evidence.
As of January 1, 2022, employees will have discretion to choose what type of documentation to submit, “if the employee has possession of such document[s]”. Additionally, employers will not be permitted to request or require more than one document to be submitted during the same 12-month period leave is requested if the reason for leave is related to the same act of violence or the same perpetrator(s) of the violence.
Finally, the Amendments impose a confidentiality requirement on employers to retain employee VESSA information “in the strictest confidence”. Such information includes, but is not limited to, employee statements, records, corroborating evidence, and even the fact that the employee has requested or obtained an accommodation under VESSA. This new provision will prohibit disclosure of any such information or documentation absent a written request or consent by the subject employee.
There have been enough changes in Illinois employment law in 2021, that employers should re-visit their handbooks now so they are current for when 2022 rolls around. Revised VESSA policies are but one change that Illinois employers will need to make.