New Labor Law SB 1754 Requires Illinois Public Bodies To Give Unions Employee Information and Creates New FOIA Exemptions and Unfair Labor Practices

By: Joshua D. Herman

joshua.herman@mhtlaw.com

On December 20, 2019, Illinois passed SB 1754 into law, imposing new obligations on public employers.

Illinois public employers (governments, school districts, park districts and other public organizations) will now have to provide regular updates and information regarding their employees to public labor unions, as well as face new obligations to avoid engaging in unfair labor practices. Originally proposed to address limited concerns under the Illinois Governmental Ethics, Senate Bill 1754 was amended to impose new requirements on public employers in Illinois. The bill was passed as Illinois Public Act 101-0620 on December 20, 2019 and was effective immediately.

Among other changes to the law, the bill adds three new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemptions to 5 ILCS 140/7.5:

“(oo) Information prohibited from being disclosed under the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act.

(pp) Information prohibited from being disclosed under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act.

(qq) Information prohibited from being disclosed under Section 1-167 of the Illinois Pension Code.”

New Affirmative Reporting Obligations to Unions

The Illinois Public Labor Relations Act and similar provisions of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act have been changed to require substantially more of public employers. Many collective bargaining agreements provide that the employer shall provide certain employee information to a union upon request. Now, unless otherwise agreed, a public employer must do the following:

At least once each month and upon request,  public employers must provide “exclusive bargaining representative[s] with a complete list of the names and addresses of the public employees in the bargaining unit, provided that a public employer shall not be required to furnish such a list more than once per payroll period. The exclusive bargaining representative shall use the list exclusively for bargaining representation purposes and shall not disclose any information contained in the list for any other purpose.” Further, when providing this list, employers must now also provide an Excel file (or other agreeable editable digital file) that includes:

  • the employee’s job title,
  • worksite location,
  • work telephone numbers,
  • identification number if available,
  • any home and personal cellular telephone numbers on file with the employer,
  • date of hire,
  • work email address, and
  • any personal email address on file with the employer.

Further, within 10 calendar days from the date of hire of a bargaining unit employee, the public employer must provide to the exclusive representative, in an electronic file or other mutually agreed upon format, the foregoing list of information for the new hire.

Employers Prohibited from Disclosing Certain Employee Information

The law creates a new section in the IPLRA prohibiting employers from disclosing the following information:

  • the employee’s home address (including ZIP code and county);
  • the employee’s date of birth;
  • the employee’s home and personal phone number;
  • the employee’s personal email address;
  • any information personally identifying employee membership or membership status in a labor organization or other voluntary association affiliated with a labor organization or a labor federation (including whether employees are members of such organization, the identity of such organization, whether or not employees pay or authorize the payment of any dues or moneys to such organization, and the amounts of such dues or moneys); and
  • emails or other communications between a labor organization and its members.

The new restriction mandates that employers provide or report such requests to the union or employee, depending on the circumstances. Violations of these requirements may be pursued as an unfair labor practice before the ILRB or in an action before a circuit court.

The purpose of these new restrictions is unclear, and they unnecessarily complicate information processing by public employers because the prohibition does not apply to most situations, stating explicitly that it “does not apply to disclosures (i) required under the Freedom of Information Act, (ii) for purposes of conducting public operations or business, or (iii) to the exclusive representative [i.e., the union].”

As a consequence of these new prohibitions, public bodies should exercise caution and seek legal advice before responding to requests for the restricted information from anyone other than the union.

Union Access

While not typically a problem and generally provided for in most collective bargaining agreements, the new law also codifies a union representative’s right of access to employees in the bargaining units they represent by adding a new section 5 ILCS 315/6(c-10).

Dues Deductions

The new law also codifies an employer’s obligation to deduct dues and other labor organization payments from employees pursuant to the employees agreement. The law clarifies that such dues deduction authorizations may be made irrevocable for long periods of time.

Employers must begin deductions as soon as practicable, but no later than 30 days after receiving written notice of an employee’s authorization for the same. Employers must transmit the deductions to the union no later than 30 days after they are made. Deductions must continue until the employee notifies the employer they have revoked their authorization in writing in accordance with the terms of the authorization, or the employee is no longer employed by the employer in a bargaining unit position.

Violations of these requirements are a breach of the employer’s duty to bargain and an unfair labor practice.

The Act also established a new section 5 ICLS 315/6.5 providing a defense to employers and unions following Janus as to any claims by employees seeking reimbursement for fair share fees that employees may have previously paid.

New Unfair Labor Practices

In addition to the foregoing obligations, the Act creates additional unfair labor practices by amending Section 10 of the ILRA with the following:

(8) to interfere with, restrain, coerce, deter, or discourage public employees or applicants to be public employees from: (i) becoming or remaining members of a labor organization; (ii) authorizing representation by a labor organization; or (iii) authorizing dues or fee deductions to a labor organization, nor shall the employer intentionally permit outside third parties to use its email or other communication systems to engage in that conduct. An employer’s good faith implementation of a policy to block the use of its email or other communication systems for such purposes shall be a defense to an unfair labor practice; or

(9) to disclose to any person or entity information set forth in subsection (c-5) of Section 6 of this Act that the employer knows or should know will be used to interfere with, restrain, coerce, deter, or discourage any public employee from: (i) becoming or remaining members of a labor organization, (ii) authorizing representation by a labor organization, or (iii) authorizing dues or fee deductions to a labor organization.

Further, the law explicitly requires employers to “refer all inquiries about union membership to the exclusive bargaining representative.” Therefore, the public bodies should be cautious in handling such requests.

All public bodies that are party to collective bargaining agreements should immediately review its obligations under this new law and take steps to come into compliance.

Illinois Workplace Transparency Act Imposes New Requirements on Employers

By: Joshua D. Herman

joshua.herman@mhtlaw.com

The new Workplace Transparency Act imposes significant obligations on Illinois employers beginning January 1, 2020. The Act significantly changes the legal obligations of most employers throughout Illinois, including governments and elected and appointed officials.

The Act was passed to ensure workplaces are free from unlawful discrimination and harassment by, among other things, safeguarding employees’ rights to report wrongdoing and imposing reporting and training obligations on employers.

The Act is not applicable to collective bargaining agreements and contracts that are subject to the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act or the National Labor Relations Act.

Employers Cannot Restrict or Prevent Reporting

The Act limits employer restrictions on employee reporting of allegations of unlawful conduct to federal, state, or local officials. Employers cannot subject employees to unilateral conditions of employment or enter into agreements that prevent the employee from making truthful statements or disclosures about alleged unlawful employer practices.

Settlement and termination agreements may include promises of confidentiality, so long as the employee remains able to make truthful statements or disclosures regarding illegal misconduct.

The employer cannot prohibit or prevent an employee from reporting unlawful or criminal acts by the employer, or cooperating with any investigation or prosecution by a governmental agency.

Employers Must Protect Non-employees

Effective immediately, the Act also requires employers to prohibit and take reasonable measures to prevent the harassment of nonemployees in the workplace. A “nonemployee” means a person who is not otherwise an employee of the employer and is directly performing services for the employer pursuant to a contract with that employer. “Nonemployee” includes contractors and consultants.

The Act Imposes New Reporting Obligations on Employers

Beginning July 1, 2020, and on or before July 1 of each year thereafter, employers must make required disclosures to the Department of Human Rights if they have been subject to an adverse judgment or administrative ruling in which there was a finding of sexual harassment or unlawful discrimination against the employer in the preceding year. If the Department investigates an employer for a charge under the Act, employers must also, upon the Department’s request, make disclosures of settlements for up to the last five years regarding allegations of sexual harassment or unlawful discrimination in the workplace.

Employers are prohibited from disclosing the name of the victim of an act of alleged harassment or unlawful discrimination in any of the disclosures required by the Act.

Employers who fail to make the required disclosures may be subject to civil penalties.

Sexual Harassment Prevention Training

The Act imposes new requirements on employers to provide annual sexual harassment training to employees. The Act requires the Illinois Department of Human Rights to create a model sexual harassment program, but in the meantime, employers should provide training that, at a minimum, includes:

  • An explanation of sexual harassment consistent with the Act;
  • Examples of conduct that constitutes unlawful sexual harassment;
  • A summary of relevant federal and state statutory provisions concerning sexual harassment, including remedies available to victims of sexual harassment; and
  • A summary of responsibilities of the employer in the prevention, investigation, and corrective measures of sexual harassment.

After the Department establishes the model training program, employers must use it to supplement any existing program. Failure to follow these training requirements could result in a civil penalty against an employer.

New Civil Penalties

In most cases, the Act provides that employers will be given notice of violations and 30 days to cure them. Employers who fail to cure such violations will be subject to civil penalties. The Act provides that the penalties for failures to report or train will be imposed based on the size of the employer, the good faith efforts made by the employer to comply, and the gravity of the violation. Typically, for employers having fewer than four employees, the penalties shall be $500 for a first offense, $1,000 for a second offense, and $3,000 for a third or subsequent offense. For employers having four or more employees, the penalties will typically be $1,000 for a first offense, $3,000 for a second offense, and $5,000 for a third or subsequent offense.


Employers should immediately review their policies and procedures to ensure that they are in compliance with the new law before it goes into effect on January 1, 2019.

Image of cannabis leaves

Employers must tackle new Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act

Recent Amendments Clarify Employer Right to Discipline for Off-Duty Use and Possession of Cannabis

By: Joshua D. Herman

joshua.herman@mhtlaw.com

Beginning January 1, 2020, it will be lawful for adults in Illinois over the age of 21 to consume and possess cannabis in accordance with the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (“CRTA”). The CRTA limits the amount of cannabis that may be possessed and prohibits its consumption in any “public place.” Meanwhile, the Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act (“RPWA”) prohibits employers from taking adverse employment action against employees for their use of lawful products off-premises, during non-working hours and while not on call.  This has raised questions regarding whether employers may discipline employees for use of cannabis during non-working hours.  A recent amendment to the CRTA has attempted to address this issue.

Under the CRTA as originally enacted, employers could still enforce reasonable zero-tolerance policies, including requiring random drug testing, as well as drug testing when the employer has a good faith belief an employee used, possessed or was under the influence of cannabis at work. However, it did not clearly state whether employers may discipline employees based solely on a positive drug test, without some indication the employee used, possessed or was under the influence of cannabis in the workplace, or otherwise jeopardized workplace safety.

On December 4, 2019, Governor Pritzker signed into law Public Act 101-593 (SB 1557) amending the CRTA to specify that employers may

  • implement reasonable workplace drug policies, including subjecting employees to reasonable drug testing or reasonable and nondiscriminatory random drug testing; and
  • discipline or terminate an employee or withdraw an offer of employment due to a failed drug test.

The requirement that drug policies be “reasonable” and “nondiscriminatory” suggests that testing should be random or required only under certain circumstances (such as pre-employment or following a workplace accident.)  Employers should not take this as license to test any employee suspected of consuming cannabis during non-working hours.  However, as amended, the CRTA now authorizes public employers to prohibit police, fire, and corrections officers, and paramedics from using or possessing cannabis off-duty.

Prior to January 1st, all employers should review and update their policies and employee handbooks to ensure they clearly identify prohibited cannabis-related conduct.

Employers cannot look into salary history

Equal Pay Act prohibits salary history inquiries

Employers Can No Longer Ask About or Look into Salary History

By: Joshua D. Herman

joshua.herman@mhtlaw.com

Effective September 29, 2019, Public Act 101-0177 (the “Act”)  made significant changes to the Illinois Equal Pay Act affecting the equality of pay and the types of inquiries employers may make of employees.

Generally, the Act makes it unlawful for an employer to seek wage or salary history, including benefits or other compensation, from a job applicant or a job applicant’s current or former employer. Employers may not screen job applicants based on their current or prior wages or salary histories (including benefits or other compensation) by requiring that the wage or salary history of an applicant satisfy minimum or maximum criteria.

The Act does not prevent an employer from providing information about the wages, benefits, compensation or salary it offers, or from engaging in discussions with an applicant regarding their expectations with respect to wages, salaries, benefits or other compensation.

Violations of the Act could subject the employer to civil action and damages. Such damages could include:

  • Injunctive relief (requiring the employer to take or refrain from taking certain actions);
  • Special damages up to $10,000;
  • Compensatory damages to the extent they exceed special damages; and
  • Costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.

The Act allows a claim for violation of these provisions to be brought within five years.

Employers should review their hiring processes and procedures to ensure they do not run-afoul of the amended Illinois Equal Pay Act.

Changes to Ashley’s Law: What Does It Mean for Medical Marijuana in Schools?

Governor signs bill expanding the administration of medical marijuana to students.

By:  Kateah M. McMasters

kateah.mcmasters@mhtlaw.com

On August 12, 2019, Governor Pritzker signed Senate Bill 455 expanding “Ashley’s Law”, which currently allows a parent, guardian or designated caregiver to administer medical marijuana to a student with a valid prescription on school grounds and on school buses.

The law’s expansion (Public Act 101-0370) amends Section 22-33 of the Illinois School Code to require school districts, public schools, charter schools, and non-public schools to allow a school administrator or nurse to administer a “medical cannabis infused product” (i.e. edible and topical products) to a student that is a registered qualifying patient under the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Program Act while on school grounds, at school-sponsored activities, at before or after school care on school grounds, or on a school bus.  However, the law does not explicitly require school administrators or nurses to actually administer medical marijuana to students; instead, the amendment only requires schools to allow these personnel to administer medical marijuana to a student if they are willing to do so.

The amendment also permits schools to authorize students to self-administer their own medical marijuana under the direct supervision of an administrator or nurse.  As with the change discussed above, the law does not explicitly require schools to allow its students to self-administer their medical marijuana; however, they are permitted to do so.

Additional requirements and training

In order for a school administrator or nurse to administer medical marijuana to a student, or for a student to self-administer medical marijuana, the parent or guardian must provide the following to the school:

(1) written authorization for its use, including the time where or the special circumstances under which the medical marijuana must be administered, and

(2) a copy of the registry identification card of the student (as a registered qualifying patient) and the parent or guardian (as a designated caregiver).

If a school permits self-administration by a student, the authorization must be renewed each school year.

Medical marijuana to be administered by a school nurse or administrator, or self-administered by the student, may now be stored on school property, but it must be stored in the same manner as all other student medication at the school, and can only be accessed by the school nurse or an administrator.

Personnel who elect to administer medical marijuana to students must complete training on the administration of medical cannabis infused products before they may administer cannabis to students.  The training will be developed by the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health., and must be completed annually.

Finally, the new law amends Section 25 of the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Program Act to extend its immunities to school administrators and nurses who elect to administer medical cannabis to students or to assist students in self-administration under the School Code.  Such nurses and administrators are immune from arrest, prosecution, and denial of any right or privilege, including a civil penalty.  However, unlike the immunities for designated caregivers, school nurses and administrators are not immune from disciplinary action by an occupational or professional licensing board.

Next steps

The new law takes effect on January 1, 2020. Prior to the effective date schools should review their policies addressing the administration of medical marijuana as necessary. Schools without such policies should come into legal compliance by establishing them, because such policies were required when Ashley’s Law first became effective on August 1, 2018.  

Schools are encouraged to contact legal counsel to discuss the impact of the changes to Ashley’s Law and to formulate a new policy regarding the use of medical marijuana by qualifying students on school buses and school grounds that is consistent with the amendments to the School Code.

Illinois Human Rights Act will apply to almost all employers in July of 2020

By: Joshua D. Herman

joshua.herman@mhtlaw.com

On August 21, 2019, Governor Pritzker signed Public Act 101-0430 into law, amending the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”).  Previously, the IHRA applied only to employers having 15 or more employees, except in cases of pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment, and disability discrimination.

Effective July 1, 2020, the IHRA’s provisions apply to employers having at least one employee within Illinois during 20 or more calendar weeks in a calendar year of or preceding an alleged claim.  This expansion of IHRA’s applicability will subject most employers to potential liability under state law for claims of age discrimination, race, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and other claims previously only available to employees of employers having 15 or more employees.

2019 Elected and Appointed Officials Municipal Law Seminar – May 11, 2019

On May 11, 2019, lawyers of Miller, Hall & Triggs, LLC will host the firm’s twelfth biennial Municipal Law Seminar for Elected and Appointed Officials from 8:30 am until noon, with lunch served thereafter.
Register here.

This seminar focuses upon topics of interest to current and newly elected Mayors and council members, Presidents and Trustees, City Managers and Administrators, City Clerks and in-house legal counsel, as well as all other Illinois government officials, including:

  • Illinois Capital Bill and Interaction with State Government
  • Making Meetings Productive and Professional
  • Code Enforcement and Property Issues
  • Developments in the Open Meetings Act
  • Public Bidding and Prevailing Wage
  • Negotiations, Labor Relations and Employee Discipline
  • Avoiding personal liability
  • Alternative Revenue Sources: Taxes, Fees, and Business Registration
  • Regulating solicitors and panhandlers
  • Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act: Q & A
  • How to choose professionals
  • Code enforcement and property issues
  • Healthcare and employee benefits
  • Economic Development and the Role of the Municipality
  • Cost Savings Achieved through Refinancing of Existing Debt
  • Code Enforcement and Property Issues, and
  • Recent developments in the Open Meetings  Act and Freedom of Information Act.

The seminar will be held at the East Peoria Campus of Illinois Central College.

You may register here to attend the seminar, or if you would like to discuss any of the above topics or have questions regarding other issues in municipal and public law, please contact Richard Joseph at (309) 671-9600.

Keynote Speaker: Illinois State Senator David Koehler

Illinois State Senator David Koehler
Illinois State Senator David Koehler

Illinois State Senator David Koehler will be our keynote speaker, discussing the Illinois Capital Bill as well as Interaction with State Government.

Register here.

Residency Requirements for Municipal Employees

By:  Robert B. McCoy

robert.mccoy@mhtlaw.com

In most cases, a municipality can chose whether to mandate that its employees reside within the municipality’s corporate limits.   Special rules, however, apply to police officers, firefighters and appointed officers of a municipality.

Municipalities that have chosen to impose employee residency requirements have sometimes faced constitutional challenges to their policies.  These challenges seldom succeed in the courts.  All that is needed for an employee residency requirement to be constitutional is that the municipality had a “rational basis” for adopting the requirement.  This standard can be easily met.  The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (the federal appeals court that sits in Chicago) has noted, for example, that a city’s need to have its employees sometimes available on short notice is a sufficient, rational reason for a residency requirement to make it constitutional.  Gusewelle v. City of Wood River, 374 F.3d 569, 578 (7th Cir. 2004.)

Although municipalities may choose to impose residency requirements on employees, the Municipal Code provides that certain appointed municipal officers must be residents. The default rule is that all appointed officers must be residents of the municipality in which they serve. (65 ILCS 5/3.1-10-6.) However, the Municipal Code exempts from this residency requirement “municipal engineers, health officers, attorneys, or other officers who require technical training or knowledge.”  There are no reported court cases giving guidance on this point, but it appears that a city council or village board could not adopt an ordinance imposing a residency requirement on “municipal engineers, health officers, attorneys, or other officers who require technical training or knowledge,” where such an ordinance would probably constitute an unlawful restriction on the mayor’s or village president’s authority to appoint officers of his or her choosing to these offices.

Police officers and firemen are considered officers, and per default rule, they must be residents of their municipality.  But, unlike the case for other officers, the Municipal Code expressly provides that a municipality can adopt an ordinance that changes this default rule and not require that its police officers and firemen be residents.  It is our opinion that a municipality could also exclude its police chief or fire chief from any residency requirements.  Note that for municipalities whose police officers of firemen are appointed by a board of police and fire commissioners, residency requirements for police officers or firemen cannot be made more restrictive for any individual during his or her period of service, nor can residency be made a condition of promotion, except for the rank or position of fire or police chief.  (65 ILCS 5/10-2.1-6.)

Who is an officer of a municipality, as opposed to a mere employee, is not always clear.  The Municipal Code lists the following positons, which may be filled by the mayor or village president with the advice and consent of the city council or village board, as being appointive offices:  “(1) a treasurer (if the treasurer is not an elected position in the municipality), (2) a collector, (3) a comptroller, (4) a marshal, (5) an attorney or a corporation counsel, (6) one or more purchasing agents and deputies, (7) the number of auxiliary police officers determined necessary by the corporate authorities, (8) police matrons, (9) a commissioner of public works, (10) a budget director or a budget officer, and (11) other officers necessary to carry into effect the powers conferred upon municipalities.”  (65 ILCS 5/3.1-30-5.)  This last category is vague, but the courts have provided some guidance in its interpretation.  In determining whether a person is an employee or an officer, the courts look at whether appointment is for a certain term, whether an oath of office is required, and whether the person has the supervisory and discretion to act on behalf of the municipality.   Rinchich v. Village of Bridgeview, 235 Ill. App. 3d 614, 628, 601 N.E.2d 1202, 1211 (1st Dist. 1992).

If a position is held by an appointed officer, as opposed to a hired employee, and if there is no statutory exception that allows or requires the officer to be a non-resident, the Municipal Code requires that the person to be a resident.  For example, an appointed city administrator, who exercises a large amount of discretion in the performance of his or her duties, would likely be an officer, and without an applicable exception to the default rule that appointed officers must be residents, the city administrator would be required to be a city resident.

In summary:

  1. A municipality can choose whether to require residency of its “ordinary” employees.
  2. A municipality can choose whether to require residency of its police officers and firemen.  However, if there is no ordinance providing otherwise, police officers and firemen must be residents of the municipality.
  3. A city council or village board likely lacks the authority to require residency of the municipality’s attorney, engineer, or any officer required to have technical training or knowledge. Imposing a residency requirement improperly limits the mayor’s or village president’s power to make appointments to these offices.
  4. Other appointed officers of a municipality may be required by statutes to be residents of the municipality. Consult with your attorney if you have questions whether an appointed officer can reside outside of your municipality’s corporate limits.

Miller Hall & Triggs closes on two RAD Low Income Housing Tax Credit Transactions in June 2018

Richard M. Joseph with Miller, Hall & Triggs, LLC closed on two RAD Low Income Housing Tax Credit Transactions resulting in the conversion of all 390 public housing units of the Housing Authority of the City of Texarkana, Arkansas.

The RAD program,  administered by HUD,  was established in order to give public housing authorities a powerful tool to preserve and improve public housing projects and address issues of deferred maintenance by providing for the voluntary conversion of public housing and other HUD-assisted properties to long-term, project-based Section 8 rental assistance, utilizing either project-based vouchers or project-based rental assistance contracts. RAD allows public housing agencies to leverage public and private debt and equity to help ensure that the units remain affordable to low income households.

The Texarkana RAD Conversion project made possible the conversion and rehabilitation of 335 units in eight separate apartment complexes through the use of 4% low income housing tax credits generating $6,356,897 in equity, $13,100,000 Multi-family Housing Revenue Bonds issued through the Arkansas Development Finance Authority, $10,000,000 non-recourse loan through the HUD 221(d)(4) program, and use of Public Housing Operating Reserve Funds.

The Housing Alliance 2 project made possible the conversion and substantial rehabilitation of 55 units in two separate apartment complexes and five single-family homes through the use of 4% low income housing tax credits generating $1,234,370 in equity, $2,900,000 Multi-family Housing Revenue Bonds issued through the Arkansas Development Finance Authority and use of Public Housing Operating Reserve Funds and Public Housing Capital Funds.

Illinois FOIA prohibits disclosure of disciplinary records older than 4 years

Disciplinary Records Older Than 4 Years Prohibited from Disclosure in Response to FOIA Request

By:  Robert B. McCoy

robert.mccoy@mhtlaw.com

Public employers have sometimes attempted to prevent the disclosure of an employee’s disciplinary records in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request under the theory that a request for such records is an unwarranted invasion of the employee’s privacy.  However, it is now settled law in Illinois that disciplinary records of a public employee, where discipline was actually imposed and which bear on the employee’s ability or fitness to do his or her work, are public records that must be released in response to a FOIA request.   But, must a public employer disclose every past reprimand or suspension of an employee, no matter how long ago the discipline was imposed?

The answer is “no.”  The Illinois Appellate Court, in the case Johnson v. Joliet Police Department, decided on June 19, 2018, ruled that, when a public employer received a FOIA request for an employee’s disciplinary records, the Personnel Record Review Act (Review Act) mandates that the employer delete those records which are more than four years old.

In the Johnson case, the Joliet Police Department denied a plaintiff’s FOIA request for records relating to the discipline of one of its employees.    This employee had been disciplined twice, but that discipline had been imposed more than four years prior to the FOIA request.

In ruling that the Joliet Police Department justifiably denied the FOIA request, the Appellate Court noted that Section 8 of the Review Act provides that “An employer shall review a personnel record before releasing information to a third party and, except when the release is ordered to a party in a legal action or arbitration, delete disciplinary reports, letters of reprimand, or other records of disciplinary action which are more than 4 years old.” (820 ILCS 40/8.)

Section 8 of the Review Act appears straightforward, but the plaintiff making the FOIA request in the Johnson case argued that Section 11 of the Review Act, which states that the Review Act is not to be construed as to diminish a right to access records already otherwise provided at law, meant that the Joliet Police Department could not limit his FOIA rights. (820 ILCS 40/11.) The Appellate Court disagreed, finding that the plaintiff’s interpretation of the Review Act rendered meaningless Section 7.5(q) of FOIA, which exempts from FOIA information prohibited from being disclosed by the Review Act.  (5 ILCS 140/7.5(q).)

Practice Tips

 If your public body receives a FOIA request for employee disciplinary records, the first step is to determine what records are responsive to the request, and whether the records are actually disciplinary records.  Not all records regarding an employee’s poor performance are disciplinary records.  For example, in the Johnson case, the Appellate Court noted that citizen complaint registers were not disciplinary records.  Records of an investigation or adjudication, to determine whether discipline should be imposed against a specific employee, are not disciplinary records.  Neither are performance evaluations.  But, letters of reprimand or notices of suspension (with or without pay) are disciplinary records.  These records must usually be disclosed, but pursuant to Section 8 of the Review Act, disciplinary records more than 4 years old must be deleted from the response to a FOIA request.  Whenever records are withheld in response to a FOIA request, the requester must be informed of the reason for the denial, while also being informed of his or her right to appeal to the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor or file a lawsuit seeking review of the denial.

If any disciplinary records are being released to a third party, Section 7 of the Review Act requires that the employee receive prior notice before the records are released. (820 ILCS 40/7.)  When disciplinary records are being released to a third party pursuant to a FOIA request, notice to the employee can be by email; otherwise, the notice must be by first-class mail. Employees have the right to supplement their personnel file with their side of the story, and any written explanations should be released along with the disciplinary records being divulged, but employees do not have the right to veto or delay the release of their disciplinary records.