Employment discrimination bill seen as necessary by some, burdensome by others
While one Democratic lawmaker fights for House Bill 4572, major employer organizations say the legislation is bad for business.
Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) during a recent press conference stood with several organizations to support legislation that would impose employment discrimination penalties on businesses with less than 15 employees.
However, critics like the Illinois Chamber of Commerce (ICC), National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and the Illinois chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. (ABCI) argue that HB 4572 would impose unnecessary burdens on small businesses throughout the state.
“All we ask is that Gov. Rauner sign HB 4572 to make discrimination illegal in the state of Illinois,” Guzzardi said.
While the NFIB said the bill was one of a handful in the past legislative session that would hurt small businesses in Illinois, the Associated Builders and Contractors Illinois Chapter have requested Rauner veto the bill.
Although the bill passed, it had quite a few detractors in both chambers of the General Assembly with the House 64-27 in favor of the legislation and the Senate voting 33-13 in favor.
When he embarked on the bill, Guzzardi said he had a startling revelation that in most small businesses in the state of Illinois it is perfectly legal to discriminate against employees on the basis of age, race, gender, disability status or religion.
“The Human Rights Act in Illinois only protects employees who work at businesses with 15 or more people,” Guzzardi said.
In contrast, the Illinois Manufacturers' Association (IMA) filed a witness slip against the bill, arguing against a heightened regulatory environment for small businesses that would be created by the legislation.
"Over the past few decades, Illinois lawmakers generally exempted small employers from laws that created costly and burdensome mandates," IMA said in a legislation bulletin. "HB 4572 (Guzzardi/Castro) seeks to undo those exemptions and would require small businesses to suddenly comply with all of these rules and regulations if signed into law by the Governor."
In addition, National Federation of Independent Business Illinois State Director Mark Grant said the bill needlessly opens up employers to litigation, which could hurt small businesses.
“The way this is set up, you’re going to see a lot of litigation created against the smallest of the businesses,” Grant told Illinois News Network. “They don’t have [human resources] departments, they’re not prepared to be able to deal with this kind of stuff.”
Laborers International Union of North America Midwest Region Assistant Director of Governmental Affairs Anna Koeppel said when Illinoisans go to work, they deserve to be treated fairly based on their abilities and qualifications.
“I urge the governor to sign this legislation to show that in Illinois, we really do believe in equality under the law for everyone,” Koeppel said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Equality Illinois Director of Public Policy Mike Ziri urged Rauner to sign the amendment to advance human rights.
“When the next Supreme Court could particularly curtail civil rights, Illinois has once again — as we have done in the past — the opportunity to lead and show the rest of the country how it is done,” Ziri said.
Ziri said the deficiency in the law can be seen in statistics.
“In the 2015 Trans Survey, 15 percent of transgender Illinoisans reported losing a job because of their gender identity or gender expression,” he said.
Illinois National Organization for Women (NOW) President Michelle Fadeley touted that Illinois NOW is the largest grassroots feminist organization in the country.
“I am here today to make it clear it is unacceptable that discrimination is allowed in tens of thousands of employers across this state,” Fadeley said.
Fadeley said “egregiously outdated legislation” permits discrimination statewide but Cook County ordinances do not.
“This leaves a shocking number of between a quarter million and half million people outside of Cook County that are employed by businesses of fewer than 15 who are vulnerable to discrimination,” she said.
The bill now sits before Gov. Bruce Rauner for consideration.