The Illinois Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act (VESSA): What Employment Attorneys Need to Know
By Katherine Gaughan-Palombi A ttorneys representing employers or employees must be aware of the protections and obligations provided under the Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act (VESSA), an Illinois state law. VESSA, 820 ILCS 180/1 et seq. (ini- tially passed into law in 2003), aims to protect survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence, stalking, and gender vio- lence in the workplace. It provides unpaid leave and reasonable accommodations for employees who have experienced vio- lence, or for employees who have a family or household member who is a victim of violence. A stated purpose of the law is to enable “victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, or gender violence to maintain the financial independence nec- essary to leave abusive situations, achieve safety, and minimize the physical and emotional injuries…, and to reduce the devastating economic consequences” of such violence. 820 ILCS 180/15. VESSA Leave VESSA provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in any 12-month period so victims can address issues arising from domestic violence, sexual violence, stalk- ing or gender violence. Employers with 1-14 employees are required to provide 4 weeks of unpaid leave; employers with 15-49 employees are required to provide 8 weeks of unpaid leave; and employers with 50 or more employees are required to provide the full 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period. The leave may be taken all at once or intermittently. VESSA applies to full- and part-time employees. An employee may take VESSA leave to: seek medical attention for physical or psychological injuries caused by domes-
tic violence, sexual violence, stalking or gender violence; obtain victim services; obtain counseling; participate in safety planning, including moving residences; or seek legal assistance, including preparing for and participating in any civil or crimi- nal proceeding related to the violence. The employee is required to provide the employer with at least 48 hours’ notice of their intention to take leave, unless pro- viding such notice is not practicable. When an employee returns to work, the employer must restore them to the same or equivalent position, which means equivalent employment benefits, pay, and other terms and conditions of employ- ment. Reasonable Accommodations VESSA also requires employers to pro- vide reasonable accommodations “to the known limitations resulting from cir- cumstances relating to being a victim of domestic violence, sexual violence, or gender violence, or a family or household member being a victim” of such violence.
820 ILCS 180/30(b)(1). A reasonable accommodation must be made in a timely fashion. Examples of reasonable accommoda- tions include adjusting a job structure, workplace facility, or work requirement, including a transfer, reassignment, or modified schedule; leave; changing a phone number or seating assignment; installing a lock or implementing a safety procedure; or assisting with documenting violence that occurs at the workplace. Employers must provide the requested accommodation, unless it would cause an undue hardship on the employer, defined as “an action requiring significant diffi- culty or expense,” considering several fac- tors stated in the law. 820 ILCS 180/30(b) (4). Certification Employers may require certification, which includes a sworn statement of the employee, and one of the following: doc- umentation from a victim services orga- nization, attorney, member of the clergy,
VESSA Referrals Ascend Justice offers pro bono representation to survivors of domestic violence who need assistance requesting leave or reasonable accommodations under VESSA, or who need assistance filing a claim for a violation of VESSA at the IDOL. Ascend Justice may be contacted at (312) 971-5932, or www.ascendjustice.org.