Chicago Expands Human Rights Ordinance to Include Military Status

Author: Marta Moakley, XpertHR Legal Editor

March 9, 2016

Effective March 16, 2016, Chicago employers are prohibited from engaging in employment discrimination in hiring, promotions or wages based on military status. These protections build on federal and state laws that impose reemployment obligations on Illinois employers (including accrual of seniority and benefits), as well as existing municipal protections based on military discharge status.

The Chicago Human Rights Ordinance has been amended to protect an applicant or employee who is:

  • On active duty;
  • In the National Guard;
  • In the reserves; or
  • A veteran of any federal or state armed forces.

Protections apply even if an individual was dishonorably discharged from the military. The ordinance does not address any veterans preference in hiring, although an employer may choose to adopt such a policy.

The Chicago Commission on Human Relations enforces the Human Rights Ordinance. The Commission has made available a fact sheet on military status discrimination. Failure to comply with the employment discrimination protections may result in the following penalties:

  • Fines ranging from $100 to no more than $1,000 per incident, paid to the City;
  • Damages and attorney fees, paid to the complainant;
  • An injunction ordering specific actions to eliminate discriminatory practices; and
  • Business license discipline or revocation.

An employer should communicate this new law to supervisors and employees in order to ensure awareness of all existing compliance obligations under the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance, the Illinois Service Member's Employment Tenure Act and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). For example, employees should be discouraged from name-calling or criticizing a co-worker regarding his or her military service.

As with any antidiscrimination law, an employer will be liable for the acts of its agents, including its supervisors. Therefore, additional supervisor training regarding employee discrimination protections may be advisable. For example, hiring managers should be reminded to avoid rejecting an employment application from a veteran with a disability based on an assumption that such an individual would take protracted leaves or would contribute to higher health insurance premiums.