The Illinois Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act (VESSA) gives domestic violence survivors and their families protections against economic insecurity, especially loss of employment. If you or a family or household member are experiencing domestic, sexual, or gender violence, you have a right to leave from work, a right to reasonable accommodations, a right to be free from discrimination, and a right to strict confidentiality by your employer.
If you or a family or household member are experiencing domestic, sexual, or gender violence, you have a right to unpaid leave from work to:
- Seek medical attention for physical or psychological injuries caused by the domestic, sexual, or gender violence
- Recover from physical or psychological injuries caused by the domestic, sexual, or gender violence
- Obtain services from a victim services organization
- Obtain psychological or other counseling
- Participate in safety planning
- Seek legal assistance or remedies to ensure you or your family or household member’s health and safety, including preparing for or participating in any civil or criminal legal proceeding related to or derived from the domestic, sexual, or gender violence
- Take any other actions to increase your or your family member’s safety from future domestic, sexual, or gender violence or ensure economic security
How much leave can I take?
If you work somewhere with:
- At least 50 employees, you are entitled to 12 weeks of leave during any 12-month period
- Between 15 and 49 employees, you are entitled to 8 weeks of leave during any 12-month period
- Between 1 and 14 employees, you are entitled to 4 weeks of leave during any 12-month period
The leave does not have to be taken all at once – you can take it intermittently, or work on a reduced work schedule. The total number of weeks you are entitled to cannot decrease during the relevant 12-month period.
Your employer is entitled to require you to periodically report on your status while on leave and your intention to return to work.
Do I have to give advance notice before I take leave?
When practicable, you must give your employer at least 48 hours’ notice that you intend to take leave. However, when you cannot provide advance notice, your employer cannot take action against you if, upon your employer’s request and within a reasonable period after the absence, you provide certification that (a) you or your family or household member is experiencing domestic, sexual, or gender violence, and (b) leave was taken for one of the reasons listed above.
What kind of certification do I need to provide?
If your employer requests certification, within a reasonable period of time after the absence and request for certification, you will need to provide two things: a sworn statement and some form of documentation corroborating the need for VESSA leave. This documentation includes:
- Documentation from an employee, agent, or volunteer of a victim services organization
- Documentation from an attorney
- Documentation from a clergy member
- Documentation from a medical professional
- Documentation from another professional from whom you or your family or household member has sought assistance in addressing domestic, sexual, or gender violence and the effects of the violence
- A police record
- A court record
- Other corroborating evidence
Your employer must keep any information you give them, including the fact that you have requested or obtained VESSA leave, in the strictest confidence. They cannot share it unless you have requested or consented in writing, or it is otherwise required by state or federal law.
What happens to my job and employment benefits while I’m on leave?
Your employer cannot take away any of the employment benefits you earned before you took leave. Your employer is also required to maintain health insurance coverage under any group health plan at the level and conditions coverage that you would have had without taking leave.
When you return from work, you are entitled to the same or an equivalent position that you had before you took leave. However, if you do not return from leave for a reason other than domestic, sexual, or gender violence or another circumstance beyond your control, you may be responsible for paying the premium the employer paid for your health insurance while you were on leave.
If you cannot return to work for one of these reasons, your employer may again request certification. Within a reasonable period of time after stating you cannot return, you will need to provide a sworn statement or one of the forms of documentation above.
If you or a household or family member are experiencing domestic, sexual, or gender violence, you are entitled to a reasonable accommodation in the terms of your employment or the terms of any public assistance you receive, so long as it does not impose an undue hardship on your employer or public agency. Any urgent circumstances or danger you or your family or household face must be considered in determining whether an accommodation is reasonable.
Accommodations must be made in a timely manner, and may include:
- A transfer
- A reassignment
- A modified schedule
- A changed telephone number
- A changed seating assignment
- Installation of a lock
- Implementation of a safety procedure
- Assistance in documenting domestic, sexual, or gender violence that occurs at the workplace or in work-related settings
Employers and public agencies cannot fire, harass, refuse to hire, deny/reduce public benefits, or otherwise sanction, discriminate, or retaliate against you for any of the following reasons:
- You are or are perceived to be experiencing domestic, sexual, or gender violence
- You took VESSA leave for one of the reasons listed above
- You attended, participated in, or prepared for, or requested leave to attend, participate in, or prepare for a criminal or civil court proceeding relating to an incident of domestic, sexual, or gender violence involving you or your family or household member
- You requested a workplace adjustment in response to actual or threatened domestic, sexual, or gender violence
- The workplace was disrupted or threatened by a person who has committed or threatened to commit domestic, sexual, or gender violence against you or your family or household member