On October 28, 2021, the Illinois legislature amended the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act (the “Act”) to limit challenges to an employer’s COVID-19 policies. The Act allows an employee to win up to three times his or her back pay where an employer discriminates against the individual for refusing to accept or participate in medical treatment. The recent amendment clarifies that the Act will not allow for recovery based on an employer’s actions taken to limit or prevent contraction of COVID-19.
The Act protects a person’s conscientious refusal to receive, obtain, accept, or participate in any way in health care services. Because of the broadly phrased language of the Act, employees refusing to comply with a mandatory vaccination policy based on a claim of religious belief argue the anti-discrimination ban is absolute and not subject to limitations found under federal laws such as Title VII or the ADA, that allow an employer to impose vaccine mandates in the workplace.
The recent amendment prohibits the Act from being used as a tool to challenge COVID-19 prevention measures, such as mandatory vaccination policies. The amendment clarifies that the Act does not prevent an employer from taking any measure or imposing any requirement to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, because the amendment goes into effect on June 1, 2022, there is a risk until then that employees can cite this Act if their conscience-based objections are denied.
Until the amendment goes into effect, Illinois employers will have to decide whether to temporarily grant a conscience-based exemption request. Thus, employers will still need to carefully consider employee exemption requests to avoid ending up in court.
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