Monday, October 22, 2018

Illinois Legislature Expands Ability of Employees to Bring Suit Against Their Employers

The Illinois legislature amended two important employment statutes, expanding rights of employees in the state to sue their employers.

Two important amendments to the Illinois Human Rights Act both expand the time for filing a charge from 180 days to 300 days from the date of the alleged discriminatory action and allow employees to immediately request a right to bypass the Department of Human Rights (IDHR) investigation procedure in favor of filing suit in court. Expanding the time for aggrieved employees to file a charge with the IDHR from 180 days to 300 days creates a time limit consistent with the EEOC.

More importantly to employers, the amendments to the Act now require the IDHR to notify charging parties within 10 days of filing a charge of their right to opt out of the agency’s investigative process and file suit directly with the courts. Charging parties have 60 days to then make that opt out request. Designed to cut down on the backlog of cases and the general lengthy wait by claimants for decisions by the IDHR, the amendment may result in more lawsuits which can increase the cost of defense to employers. Ironically, the IDHR was first created to relieve the expected backlog of claims in the courts resulting from enactment of the Illinois Human Rights Act.

Amendments to the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, effective January 1, 2019, secure an employee’s entitlement to reimbursement for business expenses authorized by an employer. The amendment provides that an employer shall reimburse an employee for all “necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee with the employee’s scope of employment and direction related to services performed for the employer.” Necessary expenditures are described as “all reasonable expenditures or losses required of the employee in the discharge of employment” that primarily benefit the employer. Losses do not include normal wear and tear of property, or that result from the employee’s negligence of due to theft unless caused by the employer’s negligence. The amendment requires an employee to submit an expense reimbursement request within 30 days after incurring the expense along with supporting documentation of the expense.

While most employers already reimburse business expenses incurred by employees, by making reimbursements enforceable under the Wage Payment and Collection Act, the Illinois legislature has allowed employees to not only bring suit in circuit court, but have made employers liable for the substantial penalties under the Act of interest on unpaid amounts of 2% per month as well as payment of the employee’s attorney’s fees. Fortunately, the amendments also provide that expenses are eligible for reimbursement only if previously authorized by the employer. Additionally, employers may avoid liability under this amended Act if they have a written expense reimbursement policy in place and the employee failed to comply with it.

Employers are urged to establish written expense reimbursement policies which clearly articulate what expenses employees may incur and the procedure for reimbursement. Many believe that technology driven expenses will be the basis of most claims under this amendment. While cell phone and data plan use are currently the most common expenses that might be claimed by employees, other work at home expenses, such as equipment or even paper used in printers could become common claims. Employers should closely evaluate their work at home policies to identify what costs are reimbursable.