Lightfoot proposes anti-retaliation ordinance for employees getting COVID-19 vaccine

The ordinance would prohibit Chicago employers from taking “any adverse action — including termination demotion, layoff or punitive schedule changes” — against employees who take time off to get vaccinated.

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The updated fall 2023 vaccine targets currently circulating strains of the virus and will be available to everyone at no cost, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Employees should be able to take time to get vaccinated without worrying about being retaliated against by their employer, according to Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times (file)

Chicago employees who take time off to get the coronavirus vaccine would be shielded from retaliation — and employers who require it must compensate workers for up to two hours per dose — under a mayoral protection plan proposed Wednesday.

During the early days of the pandemic, the City Council moved to protect employees from retaliation for absences tied to the coronavirus.

The earlier anti-retaliation ordinance prevented employers from firing, suspending, transferring or reducing the pay of workers who stay home because they have COVID-19 symptoms, have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus, or their business is deemed nonessential by statewide stay-at-home order.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Lori Lightfoot introduced a new anti-retaliation ordinance — this time aimed at employers who dare to penalize workers for taking time off to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The new ordinance would prohibit Chicago employers from taking “any adverse action — including termination demotion, layoff or punitive schedule changes” — against employees who take time off to get vaccinated.

If an employee has paid sick leave or time accrued, employers would be required to let them use that time to get vaccinated. And if the employer makes it a requirement for workers to get the coronavirus vaccine, employees must be compensated for the time taken “if it is during a shift, up to two hours per dose.”

Lightfoot moved to broaden the employee protection umbrella as the city prepares to move Monday into Phase 1c of its vaccine distribution plan, which will make all essential workers eligible for the vaccine.

At a City Hall news conference after the council meeting, Lightfoot noted essential workers have “kept this city running” throughout the pandemic. They are primarily “Black and Brown women of color,” the mayor said.

“For those who are following the public health guidance, there should be no action by an employer that retaliates or otherwise impinges upon their rights of work. Whether it’s staying home because they are sick, abiding by other social distancing and masking requirements or taking time to get a necessary, life-saving vaccine. We will protect those workers,” the mayor said.

“Their workplaces should be the last place that they should face any barriers to stepping up and doing their part to protect Chicago by getting the life-saving vaccine.”

Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno said the vast majority of Chicago employers are “doing the right thing,” protecting their employees and keeping them safe. Those who don’t will face fines ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.

“An employer cannot fire, demote, implement punitive schedule changes or take any adverse actions against an employee for taking time off to receive the vaccine...If an employee has accrued paid sick time, they are guaranteed the ability to use that time to get the vaccine,” Escareno said.

“And finally, if an employer requires that their workers be vaccinated ... the employer must compensate its employees for the time it takes to receive the vaccine if it during work hours.”

In other action at Wednesday’s council meeting:

• Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) introduced a zoning change to pave the way for construction of a giant high-rise with more than two million square feet of space at the site now occupied by the Thompson Center, across the street from City Hall.

Reilly got the ball rolling at the behest of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, whose budget has long counted on unloading the Thompson Center.

“Restoring the Thompson Center’s previous zoning designation will make the property more attractive to potential buyers, generating significant revenue for both the city and state—a win-win,” the governor’s office said in a statement.

“We look forward to the next steps in this process and thank Alderman Reilly for his commitment to responsibly using this site.”

Thompson Center employees are expected to make the move to a newly-purchased state building at 555 W. Monroe, where annual operating costs are expected to be reduced by $17 million.

• After a pair of lengthy debates, the City Council also approved Lightfoot’s watered down air pollution ordinance and agreed to penalize developers who tear down single-family homes or multi-unit buildings in Pilsen and in neighborhoods along the 606 Trail.

The pilot plan would impose a $15,000 surcharge for demolishing a “detached house, townhouse or two-flat” and a $5,000-per-unit fee for tearing down “multi-unit residential buildings.”

• And with a $1.8 billion avalanche of federal aid on the way, aldermen signed off on Lightfoot’s plan to spend or reallocate $108.5 million in relief money already delivered to the city.

Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd) sought and received assurances that none of the $60 million earmarked for “operations, cleaning, sanitization, janitorial services, combating the spread of pathogens and debt service payments” at O’Hare Airport and the $16.5 million for the same at Midway would be used to pay for police officers assigned to either airport.

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