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Illinois Governor Signs Bill Guaranteeing Workers Paid Leave

Illinois law now allows workers to accrue paid leave to use “for any reason of the employee’s choosing.”

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is pictured on March 31, 2021.

Millions of workers in Illinois are now guaranteed the right to take paid leave for any reason they choose, after Gov. JB Pritzker signed a bill into law on Monday mandating paid time off for nearly all workers in the state.

The law, passed by the Democratically-led state legislature in January, allows employees in Illinois to accrue time off based on hours worked, with workers gaining one hour per 40 hours worked. It allows workers to use this time “for any reason of the employee’s choosing,” and mandates that workers aren’t required to provide documentation or reasoning for the leave.

“Working families face so many challenges and it’s been my mission to alleviate all those burdens in any way that I can,” said Pritzker, a Democrat, at a press conference ahead of the bill signing. Pritzker emphasized that the law is a win not only for workers, but also for employers, who will see benefits from their workers having the flexibility to take care of personal issues without the stress of missing pay or facing discipline.

Only two other states have similar laws mandating paid leave for any reason, making Illinois one of the states with the most worker-friendly policies on the issue. Maine was the first state to pass a law mandating paid leave for workers in 2019, while Nevada’s governor signed a similar law shortly after. Illinois is the largest state with guaranteed paid leave.

While both Maine and Nevada’s laws allow exemptions for businesses with a smaller workforce, however, Illinois’s bill affects businesses of all sizes. Some workers are left out of the Illinois law, including seasonal workers and college students in part-time, temporary jobs.

Only a small minority of states in the U.S. guarantee workers paid leave; just fourteen states and Washington, D.C. guarantee workers paid sick time.

With a dearth of federal laws mandating paid leave for workers, many workers aren’t allowed time for sick, family or vacation leave.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 77 percent of workers in the private sector had access to paid sick leave in 2022, while 79 percent had access to paid vacation. Low wage workers are disproportionately affected by a lack of paid sick leave policies, with over 60 percent without paid sick leave. An even smaller portion of the workforce has access to paid family leave; only 24 percent of private sector workers had access to paid family leave last year.

Guaranteed paid leave has come into the spotlight in recent years, as the U.S. is the only wealthy country in the world in which workers aren’t guaranteed family or sick leave.

President Joe Biden and Democrats pushed for universal paid sick and family leave earlier on in Biden’s presidency, but the measure has largely been dropped in Congress, as it faces opposition from Republicans and conservatives like Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) and Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia). Biden has once again called for Congress to pass legislation guaranteeing workers paid sick and family leave, but the proposal is dead on arrival with a Republican-controlled House.

Paid sick leave was also a focus during a recent stalemate between rail companies and their workers, who, as of last year, had zero days of paid leave, regardless of the reason. Some rail workers have since won the right to paid sick leave, but the issue of intense scheduling pressures still remains for many in the industry.

In lieu of federal policy, however, some states are taking the issue into their own hands, hoping to expand the list of states with guaranteed paid leave. Last month, the Minnesota House passed a bill that would allow workers in the state to accrue paid sick leave based on hours worked. The bill is likely to pass the state Senate, with a Democratic majority, and be signed into law by Democrat Gov. Tim Walz.

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