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Aldermen move to protect workers who take time off for COVID-19 vaccination

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.

People line up for COVID-19 vaccine doses Thursday at Cook County’s Forest Park Community Vaccination Site at 7630 Roosevelt Road in Forest Park. About 2.6 million Illinois residents have been fully vaccinated so far, or about 20% of the population.
People line up for COVID-19 vaccine doses April 8 at Cook County’s Forest Park Community Vaccination Site at 7630 Roosevelt Road in Forest Park.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Chicago employees who take time off to get the coronavirus vaccine would be shielded from all forms of retaliation and compensated for the time it takes, under a mayoral protection plan advanced Tuesday.

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.

On Tuesday, the City Council’s Workforce Development Committee broadened the protective umbrella to include the vaccination process.

Aldermen unanimously endorsed Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to prohibit employers from penalizing their employees in any way for taking time off to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

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.

Employers choosing to require vaccinations cannot require employees to get vaccinated during non-shift hours. Instead, they must allow employees to get vaccinated during work hours, without retaliation, and compensate employees for that time, paying them “up to four hours-per-dose.” That’s up from two hours per dose in the mayor’s original version.

Workers cannot be required to use paid sick time to meet employer-proposed vaccine mandates.

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is administered at Norwegian American Hospital in January.
Employees would be protected against retaliation by their employers when it comes to getting vaccinated, under an ordinance endorsed Tuesday by a Chicago City Council committee.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

However, Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno said “most employers ... will likely not require their workers to receive the vaccine” — and the ordinance also shields those employees.

Employers who don’t require employees to get vaccinated cannot terminate, discipline or take any adverse action against a worker for taking time off to receive the vaccine. Nor can they require employees to get vaccinated only during non-shift hours.

If an employee has paid sick leave or time accrued, employers would be required to let them use that time to get vaccinated.

“The only way to get out of this pandemic is through widespread vaccination. We must do everything in our power to make it easy for workers, especially the most vulnerable, who need to receive this vaccine. This ordinance will do just that,” Escareno told aldermen.

“This ordinance will ensure that no worker has to choose between keeping their job and getting the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Ald. Carlos Ramirez Rosa (35th) called the mayor’s ordinance the “bare minimum for public health and workers’ rights.”

“I was hearing on the news today about all of the variants — in Brazil, in the U.K., in South Africa. And so the sooner that we can get more people vaccinated, the sooner we can ensure that we’re taking steps to protect the health of the entire world,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

“We’ve gotta make sure that we protect the ability to get their ‘Fauci ouchie.’”

Lightfoot proposed her second pandemic-inspired, anti-retaliation ordinance just days before Chicago moved into Phase 1c of its vaccine distribution plan, which will made all essential workers eligible for the vaccine.

At a City Hall news conference after the March City 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.”

Escareno has argued that the vast majority of Chicago employers are “doing the right thing” and not punishing workers who take time off, either because they’re sick or getting vaccinated. Those who don’t under the new ordinance will face fines ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.