A Complete Guide to Illinois Employee Benefits During COVID-19

Gusto Editors

Understanding how Illinois employee benefits apply to workers and employers alike is an important part of living, working, and running business in the Prairie State. While these programs are wide-ranging and all-encompassing, they have not gone unscathed by the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, with many programs implementing changes to make it easier for Illinois residents to access benefits during these challenging times. Workers and employers alike are feeling pressure as furloughs and layoffs take hold across the state.

What are some of the minimum benefits packages required under Illinois law and how do these programs work? This guide will help you understand the requirements and details of these programs and how they have been impacted by COVID-19.

Unemployment insurance benefits in Illinois

In Illinois, unemployment insurance benefits are payable for up to 26 full weeks while an unemployed or underemployed individual is actively looking for a job. The program is administered by the state Department of Employment Security (IDES). To be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits in Illinois, claimants must:

  • Be unemployed through no fault of their own
  • Have received $1,600 or more in wages during the base period for insured work
  • Have received at least $440 of base period wages at any time during the base period outside the calendar quarter in which your wages were highest
  • Be registered for work with IDES
  • Certified their claim using the IDES Tele-Serve system
  • Served the one-week waiting period after application
  • Remain able to work, available to work, and actively looking for work

The weekly benefit amount a claimant is entitled to is dependent upon their wages prior to becoming unemployed. For a full list of weekly benefit amounts, see the IDES table. To file for unemployment in Illinois, claimants should follow these steps:

As part of the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act of 1988, Illinois employers with 100 or more employees are required to provide 60 calendar-days’ advanced notice if a workplace is scheduled for closure or if mass layoffs of employees are planned. 

How has COVID-19 changed Illinois unemployment benefits?

Due to the federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, approved unemployment claimants in Illinois are eligible to receive an additional $600 in weekly benefits, financed by the federal government. These additional payments are scheduled to continue through July 25, 2020 on an automatic basis. However, those payments might come as a separate distribution from the regular, state-financed benefits distribution.  

The State of Illinois has implemented a new set of filing requirements for unemployment insurance to ease the difficulty of processing the high volume of claims associated with COVID-19. For online filers those with last names beginning with A through M should file on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, while those with last names beginning with N through Z should file on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Saturdays are reserved for open claims filing for anyone unable to file within those requested windows. 

Additionally, those claimants filing for unemployment insurance benefits through a call center will be asked to similarly file in accordance with a schedule. Those with last names beginning with the letters A through M are asked to call on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 7:30 am and 6:00 pm local time. Those with last names beginning with the letters N through Z are asked to call on Mondays and Wednesdays between 7:30 am and 6:00 pm local time. Fridays are available for open claims for anyone unable to file within those requested windows. 

For more information about filing for unemployment in Illinois due to COVID-19, visit the State of Illinois’ dedicated frequently asked questions page.

Paid time off in Illinois

In Illinois, paid vacation time is not required by law. However, when employers do extend paid vacation time to employees, they must also pay for unused time off when a worker’s employment ends. Unwritten time off policies can also be enforced in court. Worker complaints regarding withheld vacation time are handled by the Illinois Department of Labor. 

Under Illinois state law, employers must provide one hour of paid sick leave to employees for every 40 hours worked, up to a maximum of 40 hour in a one-year period. Under the Employee Sick Leave Act, employers must also allow employees to use some of their sick leave time to them to care for certain family members. 

Illinois does not require private employers to extend paid time off to their employees for public holidays, nor do employers have to pay overtime to employees for working during a public holiday. Illinois recognizes the following as public holidays:

  • New Year’s Day 
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday
  • Lincoln’s Birthday 
  • Casimir Pulaski’s Birthday 
  • Good Friday 
  • Memorial Day 
  • Independence Day 
  • Labor Day 
  • Columbus Day 
  • Veterans Day 
  • Thanksgiving Day 
  • Christmas Day 

Illinois also requires employers to allow for job-protected, unpaid time off so employees can respond to a jury summons or serve on a jury. Similarly, employees must be allowed two hours off work on an election day to vote when their working hours begin less than two hours after the opening of polls and end less than two hours before the closing of polls. Finally, private employers in Illinois must abide by federal laws, including the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specific reasons laid out under the law. 

How has COVID-19 changed Illinois paid time off?

Under federal law, private employers in the US must extend paid sick leave to employees for specific, coronavirus-related reasons through December 31, 2020. These reasons include a government quarantine order, a doctors’ order, coronavirus symptoms, to care for someone impacted by any of those reasons, or to care for a child. Each reason includes up to 80 hours paid leave, except for caring for a child, which includes up to 12 weeks paid leave. For symptomatic workers or those under a quarantine order, paid leave will be equal to their normal rate, up to $511 per day. For those caring for a family member or child, paid leave will equal two thirds of their normal rate, up to $200 per day. 

Healthcare benefits in Illinois

In Illinois, healthcare benefits requirements are primarily influenced by the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). While there is no state-level requirement to provide group healthcare insurance to employees, the ACA stipulates that employers with 50 or more employees must provide “affordable” coverage that meets the “minimum essential” levels of coverage as defined under the law. Minimum essential benefits include:

  • Outpatient care in a doctor’s office
  • Emergency room evaluation and treatment
  • Inpatient care in a hospital
  • Pre- and post-birth care
  • Mental health and substance abuse counseling
  • Prescription medication
  • Physical and occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, psychiatric rehabilitation, and other services to help recover from an injury, disability, or chronic condition
  • Lab testing
  • Preventive services, including screenings, counseling, and vaccines
  • Pediatric services, including dental and vision care, for children under the age of 19

How has COVID-19 changed Illinois healthcare benefits?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are covering the cost of lab tests for the novel coronavirus. Additionally, the state has prohibited private insurers from canceling coverage or refusing to renew insurance policies for those patients diagnosed with COVID-19 or a pre-existing respiratory illness. 

The State of Illinois has prohibited many private insurers from terminating overage due to late payment of premiums. Illinois also requires insurers to extend continued coverage to furloughed or terminated employees throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Disability benefits in Illinois

Disability insurance benefits are provided under the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS). Disability insurance is distributed as part of the Social Security Disability Insurance Program, as well as the Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which employers and employees both pay into. To be eligible for disability insurance benefits, Illinois residents must:

  • Be disabled
  • Have been employed
  • Made contributions via taxes into the social security fund
  • Provide medical evidence of the disability
  • Demonstrate whether the disability is expected to last a minimum of 12 months or for a lifetime

In Illinois, applicants typically wait 90 days for a confirmation or denial of their eligibility. The local social security office would determine the amount of an eligible applicant’s monthly benefits check, as well as when an applicant could expect to receive their first check. 

How has COVID-19 changed Illinois disability benefits?

In Illinois, workers who develop symptoms related to COVID-19 and receive a diagnosis from a medical practitioner confirming their condition might be eligible for disability insurance benefits. However, being under a quarantine order or practicing social distancing does not qualify individuals for disability insurance benefits. 

Workers’ compensation in Illinois

Workers’ compensation in Illinois is governed by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. Employers are required to supply workers’ compensation for their employees. When an employee files a workers’ compensation claim, the commission first tries the case with an arbitrator, along with a panel of three commissioners who determine whether the claimant is entitled to workers’ compensation. The decisions in these cases could be appealed to the circuit court, Appellate Court, and ultimately the state Supreme Court. According to the commission, the majority of workers’ compensation cases are resolved by settlement. 

To file a workers’ compensation claim, a claimant must:

  • Notify their employer within 45 days of the injury or illness diagnosis
  • File a claim with the state Workers’ Compensation Commission by providing their employer with an Application for Adjustment of Claim, along with proof of service
  • Await for their employer’s response, which includes a list of approved medical providers and documentation that the insurer was informed

Workers’ compensation covers approved medical costs related to the injury or illness suffered in the workplace. Additionally, it provides temporary disability payments of up to two-thirds their average weekly wage, up to a maximum of $1,440.60 per week. 

How has COVID-19 changed Illinois workers’ compensation?

The State of Illinois expanded the workers’ compensation program to include healthcare industry employees and emergency responders who contracted the novel coronavirus during their work. Additionally, the state made certain employees eligible for workers’ compensation as it related to COVID-19, including those in the travel industry, hospitality industry, traveling employees, pharmacy employees, and cleaning and maintenance crews.

Child care benefits in Illinois

In Illinois, low-income, working families are eligible for the state Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) through the Department of Human Services. The CCAP is a state partnership program with child care providers that offers cost-sharing support for eligible families. Cost-sharing is determined on a sliding scale based on family size and income. 

How has COVID-19 changed Illinois child care?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the State of Illinois has extended emergency child care resources to essential workers unable to keep their children home while they are at work. The executive order issued by Governor J. B. Pritzker includes:

  • Licensed and licensed-exempt child care homes may serve up to six children of essential workers as a legally license-exempt home;
  • Certain license-exempt child care centers may also continue to serve up to 10 children of essential workers (not to exceed five classrooms) without needing to apply for an Emergency Child Care License;
  • Centers that wish to reopen as Emergency Child Care Centers can apply for an Emergency Child Care License.

Retirement benefits in Illinois

In Illinois, employers with 25 or more employees who do not already offer a 401(k) or IRA retirement savings program are required to pay into a mandatory state-sponsored retirement savings program. That program, Illinois Secure Choice, defaults to a Roth IRA and requires employers to withhold 5% of employee pay. Employers required to provide retirement savings programs will be prompted by the State of Illinois. Those who fail to comply with the state’s rules could be subject to penalties of $250 per employee for the first year of non-compliance, and $500 per employee for each subsequent year. 

How has COVID-19 changed Illinois retirement benefits?

The spread of the novel coronavirus has not changed employer requirements to provide retirement benefits under Illinois’s state law. Compliance with the law remains mandatory and financial penalties still apply for non-compliance. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has proved challenging for employers and employees alike, but you are not alone during this challenging time. For more information on helpful benefits and relief programs, visit our COVID-19 small business relief finder or Illinois COVID-19 resource hub.

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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