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Illinois Breaks Ground with New Legal Protection for the Citizen-Soldier

  • March 17, 2005

In the first legislation of its kind in the nation, the Illinois' Citizen Soldier Initiative expands the term "military status" in the Illinois Human Rights Act to include National Guard members and reservists, in addition to active military service men and women. CSI ensures that members of Guard and Reserve units are treated equally and fairly in terms of employment, housing and credit by eliminating any distinctions between active duty members of the armed forces and members of state or federal Guard or Reserve forces. CSI affects every Illinois employer with 15 or more employees.

Citizen-soldiers face an average two-year term of deployment, and many employers are unsure of who is entitled to "military status" protection and how military leave requests should be handled. According to a 2004 study conducted by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, many Guard members and Reservists reported they were denied job opportunities because employers fear they may lose those employees with little or no notice. The same study reported that some employers have threatened to fire employees choosing to enter the National Guard or Reserve.

The Illinois Citizen Soldier Initiative addresses these concerns by defining military status to include "status as a current member of any reserve component of the armed forces of the United States, including the United States Army Reserve, United States Marine Corps Reserve, United States Navy Reserve, United States Air Force Reserve, and United States Coast Guard Reserve, or status as a current member of the Illinois Army National Guard or Illinois Air National Guard."

CSI will be enforced by the Illinois Department of Human Rights, which will investigate alleged violations and make findings when the Act has been violated. The Department of Human Rights has expressed its intention to aggressively investigate and apply the protections of CSI.

The new law is a companion to the Illinois Service Member's Employment Tenure Act, which provides additional protection to Illinois National Guard members and Reservists called to active duty. This law imposes fines on employers who terminate soldiers' jobs while they are on active duty. If any employer knowingly violates this Act, it must compensate the person on active duty for lost wages, benefits, and reasonable attorney's fees and costs of litigation. Damages available under the Service Member's Employment Tenure Act are in addition to damages that may be available under the CSI.

Among other Midwestern states, only Wisconsin's fair employment practice law currently protects active duty military personnel. However, all employers may want to adopt a "best practices" approach to the treatment of personnel engaged in active duty, the Reservists and the National Guard. Although not required, voluntary employer support for citizen-soldiers who request time away from their jobs reinforces a positive workplace image.

In Illinois, employers subject to the CSI should review and update their EEO policies and statements, as well as all leave policies, to ensure compliance with all applicable laws relating to military status protection. In other Midwestern states, employer should actively monitor legislative developments regarding proposals to give added protection to citizen-soldiers. Employers may consider the desirability of designating a specific individual to be responsible for employee questions and concerns relating to military leave. Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to assist employers concerning the rights of employees in military service. Please contact the attorney with whom you regularly work, or Chicago managing partner Peter R. Bulmer.

©2005 Jackson Lewis P.C. This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between Jackson Lewis and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material. This material may be considered attorney advertising in some jurisdictions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

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