The Missouri and Illinois legislatures were quite active in 2016 in creating laws affecting employers, and they have been just as busy in the first few weeks of 2017. Below is a summary of employment law developments that may affect your business in those states in the coming year.

Missouri employment laws

“Permitless” concealed carry law: Effective Jan. 1, 2017, anyone who may legally own a firearm may carry it open or concealed without a permit into most locations in the state. However, this new law does not allow a person (even a concealed carry permit holder) to carry a firearm into a variety of locations without special permission from the owner or manager, including but not limited to: most governmental offices, airports, childcare facilities, schools, gated areas of amusement parks, churches, large sports arenas, hospitals accessible to the public, establishments licensed to dispense liquor, and where it is prohibited by federal law.

The law does not impede Missouri employers from prohibiting employees, even those with concealed carry permits, from bringing a firearm onto company property or carrying a firearm in employer-owned vehicles. Additionally, if the employer’s building is open to the public, the employer can prohibit all who enter from bringing a firearm onto the property by posting a sign stating that firearms are off-limits. The sign must be at least 11 inches by 14 inches and have lettering measuring at least 1 inch.

Interestingly, House Bill 96 proposes to allow an individual who normally carries a firearm but is prohibited from doing so by a company’s posting and is harmed on the company’s property to bring a private action for damages. For example, this bill could allow a convenience store customer harmed in a robbery or a convenience store employee harmed while at work to sue the store for his or her injuries. The bill reasons that by prohibiting firearms individuals may use for self-defense, the property owner has assumed custodial responsibility for the safety and defense of those on the premises. The bill is not set for a hearing or further process on the House calendar, but if passed, it may affect how Missouri employers view workplace gun policies.

Missouri minimum wage increase: Missouri’s minimum wage increased to $7.70 as of Jan. 1, 2017. This applies to all Missouri businesses except retail and service businesses with less than $500,000 in gross sales. (Some agricultural employees and certain classifications of employees are also exempt.) Tipped employees’ total hourly wage must equal at least $7.70, with employers required to pay at least 50 percent and to adjust if needed to bring that employee to the minimum wage threshold. Employers should keep in mind that failure to comply could result in misdemeanor charges and civil penalties In addition, employers need to update labor law posters to include this update. See a summary of Missouri Minimum Wage Law here.

Missouri’s right-to-work legislation: Multiple pieces of legislation have been filed in the Missouri House of Representatives and Senate that propose to make Missouri a right-to-work state. The push for this legislation comes on the heels of the inauguration of Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, who has supported right-to-work laws. A right-to-work law would prohibit Missouri employers from requiring workers to become union members as a condition for employment. It is uncertain whether this legislation will affect existing collective bargaining agreements or will only affect agreements entered into after the effective date of the law.

Proposed changes to the Missouri Human Rights Act: The new majority Republican legislature has also been fast at work proposing changes to the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), which, in part, prohibits employers from basing employment decisions on a person’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, age or disability. The flurry of activity follows Greitens’ campaign promise for tort reform, which he reiterated in his recent State of the State address. Specifically, there are three bills (SB43, HB550 and HB552) that propose changes to the statute and the way it should be interpreted by Missouri courts. The amendments seek, in part, to:

  • Change the burden of proof from the current contributing factor standard to a higher burden of proof;
  • Impose caps on damages for a prevailing plaintiff based on the size of the employer;
  • Remove supervisors and others from individual liability under the MHRA;
  • Require Missouri courts to heavily rely on the judicial interpretations of Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act;
  • Require Missouri courts to give a jury instruction stating that the jury is not to second-guess a business decision made by the employer as long as it was made for a non-discriminatory reason, if such an instruction is requested by the employer;
  • Encourage Missouri courts to summarily dispose of cases that lack sufficient facts prior to trial and apply the U.S. Supreme Court’s burden shifting framework used in Title VII cases; and
  • Codify the existing common law exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine by implementing the “Whistleblower’s Protection Act” which, in part, prohibits recovery of unfettered punitive damages by allowing recovery of liquidated damages in egregious circumstances.

If passed, these changes would go into effect August 2017. They would significantly modify the landscape of employment litigation in Missouri and decrease the number of frivolous lawsuits that burden the court’s dockets and cost Missouri employers time and money to defend. Moreover, the addition of the Whistleblower’s Protection Act would make a claim under MHRA the exclusive remedy for seeking recourse for unlawful employment practices in Missouri and eliminate the former common law causes of action.

Illinois employment laws

Illinois Freedom to Work Act: Effective Jan. 1, 2017, Illinois employers are prohibited from entering into non-competition agreements with low-wage workers (those earning $13 an hour or less). This reflects a policy of higher scrutiny toward restrictive covenants so as to ensure that low-wage workers may remain mobile. The practical effects are likely to be minimal, as few employers use restrictive covenants for low-wage workers.

Illinois Child Bereavement Leave Act: New in July 2016, the Illinois Child Bereavement Act requires employers to give eligible employees up to two work weeks per child of unpaid bereavement leave within a 12-month period to attend a funeral for a child, make necessary arrangements after the death of a child, and grieve the death of a child. Covered employers are those with 50 or more employees. Eligible employees are those who have worked for the employer for a total of 12 months, for at least 1,250 hours over those 12 months.

Illinois Employee Sick Leave Act: Applicable to all employers who provide personal sick leave benefits, the Illinois Employee Sick Leave Act entitles employees to use benefits for the illness, injury or medical appointment of a child or grandchild, spouse or domestic partner, parent or stepparent, mother-in-law or father-in-law or sibling. Personal sick leave is still limited by the amount that would accrue in six months at the current rate, and the Employee Sick Leave Act does not extend an employee’s FMLA leave entitlement. This law took effect Jan. 1, 2017.

Illinois Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act Amendment: Also effective Jan. 1, 2017 was an amendment to the Illinois Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act. The law affords unpaid leave time for employees who are victims of domestic or sexual violence, or whose family members are victims of domestic or sexual violence, for the purpose of addressing issues related to that violence. The amount of leave available depends on the size of the employer. The amendment adds an additional category of covered employers, ultimately making this type of leave available to more Illinois employees. Specifically under the amendment, employers with fewer than 14 employees now must allow an employee four weeks of unpaid leave in any 12-month period so the employee can handle issues related to domestic or sexual violence. The law requires newly covered employers to post the obligatory notice and update their employment and record retention policies.