Last week, Governor Rauner signed into law House Bill 6162, the Employee Sick Leave Act (“the Act”). Under the Act, “personal sick leave benefits” provided by employers for absences due to an employee’s illness, injury, or medical appointment are now extended to the employee's family members. In other words, beginning January 1, 2017, the Act will require Illinois employers who already provide sick leave for the employee’s own medical needs to permit employees to use that leave for the medical needs of their family members.

The Act defines “personal sick leave benefits” as time accrued and available to an employee to be used as a result of absence from work due to personal illness, injury, or medical appointment. However, the Act specifically excludes absences from work for which compensation is provided through an employer's plan, such as short-term and long-term disability plans. Absent from the Act is any clarification as to whether or not more general “paid time off” may also be used for family care. The Department of Labor will draft rules and regulations which may clarify what type of “leave benefits” are covered by the Act.

The Act defines “family members” broadly. Employees can use personal sick leave for an illness, injury, or medical appointment of a child, spouse, sibling, parent, mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandchild, grandparent, or stepparent. For any listed family member, an employee may use personal sick leave benefits on the same terms upon which the employee is able to use sick leave benefits for the employee's own illness or injury.

The Act does not provide totally unfettered use of sick leave time for family care. While the Act itself does not limit the maximum amount of time an employee may take, it does provide that such leave can be used for “reasonable periods of time” based on the necessary attendance of the employee. Further, the Act allows an employer to limit the amount of leave to an amount not less than the personal sick leave that would be accrued during six months at the employee’s rate of accrual. Put differently, an employer may cap an employee’s leave for family medical care to the amount of personal sick time that employee would accrue over a six-month period. Additionally, the Act does not extend the maximum amount of leave an employee may take under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The Act prohibits employers from denying an employee the right to use personal sick leave benefits in accordance with the Act. The Act also prohibits retaliation for requesting leave, or discharging, threatening to discharge, demoting, suspending, or in any manner discriminating against an employee for using personal sick leave benefits in accordance with the Act. Employees who believe their rights have been violated may file a complaint with the Illinois Department of Labor.

It is important to note that the Act does not require any employer to create sick leave benefits for its employees. In other words, if an employer does not currently offer “personal sick leave benefits” to its employees, the Act does not mandate it do so now. However, earlier this summer, Chicago passed an ordinance which does require employers operating within the City to provide paid sick leave. If an employer already provides leave benefits for an employee to care for a family member as required by the Act, the employer need not modify its policies. Therefore, employers should review their policies and handbooks to determine whether the Act applies to their benefits, and ensure that proper revisions are made before the law takes effect.