One of the most frequent questions I get from business owners is: “Do all these laws regarding discrimination apply to me? I have a small business.” For the most part, small business owners, (those that have less than 15 employees) are exempt from most of the Federal and State laws designed to protect against discrimination. That is about to change if Governor Rauner signs a bill that would dramatically reduce that threshold.
Under Federal law, specifically Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, discrimination is prohibited by those companies that employ 15 or more employees. This includes discrimination based on age, race, sex, (including sexual orientation), and national origin. The sole exception to this in in the area of sexual harassment, which applies to employers with only 1 employee. What this means is, effectively, employers who have less than 15 employees are free to discriminate at will.
In Illinois, there is a state counterpart which is called the Illinois Human Rights Act. It was passed into law nearly 38 years ago and provides nearly identical protection and has the same numerosity threshold. All of that is about to change however!
Sitting on Governor Rauner’s desk is a bill that would dramatically lower the threshold for the State discrimination laws to apply to small employers, possibly even those that employ only one employee. There are similar laws in neighboring states (Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan) and Illinois seems to be an outlier in that regard.
Whether or not Gov. Rauner will actually sign the bill is an open question. He has shown himself to be a supporter of business at the expense of employees. If passed, this law would impact potentially tens of thousand employers. Gov. Rauner has refused to sign similar bills in the past citing the increased administrative burden on small employers and compliance issues accompanying such a measure. This is a very poor argument in my opinion as ALL employees, regardless of the size of their employer should be able to work in an environment free from discrimination. Similarly, small employers should be held accountable and should strive to ensure that their workplaces are not breeding grounds for mistreatment of employees simply because they do not have a high enough employee count to trigger coverage under the law.
Governor Rauner has refused to raise the state minimum wage for years and is not overly employee friendly. Whether he actually signs this new bill will signal his support or continue his ‘hands off” approach to business in the state. We will continue to monitor the situation and let you know the minute he either signs the bill or refuses to do so. For now, employers should be aware. Even if the new bill is not passed, employers who feel free to mistreat their employees because they fall below the threshold for coverage under the various employment laws need to change their practices so that the tagline: “Our employees are our most valuable asset” is not just a slogan but a core value. We can help with that with our targeted Employment Law Audit. Please call today to schedule your consultation.
With over 34 years’ experience in advising employers and employees on workplace issues, let Boznos Law work with you to ensure you are ready to meet the challenges posed by the changes to the employment laws. Call Bill Boznos today at (630) 375-1958 or contact us at www.boznoslawoffice.com/contact-us through our website.