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City Council Committee Backs Plan To Protect Chicago Workers Who Take Time Off To Get COVID-19 Vaccine

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Aldermen have advanced Mayor Lori Lightfoot's plan to protect Chicago workers from retaliation if they take time off work to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and to require employers who require staff to get the vaccine to compensate them for doing so.

The City Council Committee on Workforce Development unanimously approved the mayor's plan on Tuesday, sending it to the full City Council for a vote next week.

"The only way to get out of this pandemic is through widespread vaccination. We must do everything in our power to make it easy for workers – especially the most vulnerable – who need to receive this vaccine. This ordinance will do just that," Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno told aldermen.

If employers mandate staff get vaccinated, they could not require workers to get their shot during non-work hours, and must allow employees to get vaccinated during their shift if they so choose. Employers could not retaliate against workers for doing so.

If a worker who is required to get a vaccine chooses to get their shot during their shift, their employer must compensate them for the time it takes, paying them for up to four hours per dose of the vaccine. Lightfoot originally proposed requiring employers to pay for up to two hours per dose.

Employers also would be barred from requiring workers to use paid sick time to get a vaccine during work hours.

While most employers likely won't require staff to get vaccinated, Escareno said the ordinance would still provide protections for those workers who choose to get the shot.

In those cases, employers could not require their staff to get vaccinated only during non-work hours, and could not retaliate against workers who get their shot during a work shift.

"This means they cannot terminate, discipline, or take any adverse action against a worker for taking time off to receive the vaccine," Escareno said.

Employers also must allow workers to use any available accrued sick time or other paid time off to get vaccinated if they choose.

Regardless of whether employers require staff to get vaccinated or not, those who don't allow workers to take time off to get vaccinated, or retaliate against those who do, would face fines of $1,000 to $5,000 per violation. In addition, if workers are fired for taking time off to get the vaccine, they would be entitled to get their job back, plus damages up to three times the amount of lost wages.

"This ordinance will ensure that no worker has to choose between keeping their job and getting the COVID-19 vaccine," Escareno said.

The mayor's plan to protect workers from retaliation for getting vaccinated comes 10 months after the City Council approved an ordinance to prohibit employers from firing, demoting, transferring, suspending, or reducing the pay of workers who stay home because they are have tested positive for the virus or are sick with symptoms of the disease; are under a quarantine or isolation order or are caring for someone else who is; or if their business was deemed non-essential by the statewide stay-at-home order.

Escareno said the vast majority of Chicago businesses have been doing the right thing by not retaliating against workers who take time off either because they're sick, caring for someone who is, or are getting vaccinated.

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