Chicago Enacts COVID-19 Anti-Retaliation Ordinance

Alexander Reich and Jason Tremblay
Published June 1, 2020

In response to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, on May 20, 2020, the City of Chicago passed the COVID-19 Anti-Retaliation Ordinance.

The Ordinance prohibits Chicago employers from demoting or terminating an employee for obeying certain orders issued by the Mayor, the Governor of Illinois, or the Chicago Department of Public Health. The Ordinance applies to orders:

  • to stay at home to minimize transmission of COVID-19
  • to remain at home while experiencing COVID-19 symptoms
  • to obey a quarantine order
  • to obey an isolation order
  • to obey an order issued by the Commissioner of Health regarding the duties of hospitals and other congregate facilities.

It also protects employees who follow the direction of a treating healthcare provider to quarantine, isolate, or remain at home, as well as those employees who care for an individual who has been ordered to stay at home or quarantine due to COVID-19.

A violation of the COVID-19 Anti-Retaliation Ordinance could subject an employer to an administrative action or lawsuit by the Chicago Commissioner of Health, as well as a civil lawsuit by the employee for reinstatement to the same position he or she held prior to the retaliatory action. An employer who violates the Ordinance may also have to pay damages equal to three times the wages that would have been owed absent the retaliatory action, along with actual compensatory damages, costs, and attorney’s fees.

Notwithstanding these potential penalties, the Ordinance provides an affirmative defense for employers who reasonably rely upon an interpretation of an order and, upon learning of a violation of the Ordinance, cure such violation within 30 days. While the Ordinance prohibits retaliatory conduct, employers are still entitled to issue discipline for non-retaliatory reasons.

Chicago’s COVID-19 Anti-Retaliation Ordinance adds to the bevy of federal, state, and local COVID-19 regulations impacting employers as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Chicago employers should therefore take extreme care when disciplining or discharging employees who are unable or unwilling to return to work in light of the Ordinance.

Should you have any questions about the Ordinance, or if you would like to discuss any disciplinary issues associated with an employee’s refusal or inability to return to work, please contact your regular Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr’s labor and employment attorney.