Governor Rauner, General Assembly reach agreement on reforms to Illinois’ unemployment insurance law

This important statute, which will be amended by HB 1285 and/or SB 1941, covers the procedures that take place when a worker is laid off or otherwise subjected to no-fault unemployment. Many of the benefits created by the Illinois unemployment insurance (UI) statute were scheduled to sunset at the end of 2015, creating an incentive for Illinois business and labor to come to the negotiating table. Away from press scrutiny, and meeting under the guidance of a team headed by Rauner cabinet member Jeff Mays, longtime advocates for both sides described some of their concerns with current law. Relief for some of these concerns was contained in the agreed language of this week’s legislation. Governor Rauner’s announcement that an agreement had been reached was made on Monday, November 9. Key members of the General Assembly participated in the meetings on behalf of both political parties and all four caucuses.

In Illinois, most people in this position are granted the right to receive unemployment insurance (UI) for up to 26 weeks in any one-year period after they are laid off. UI payments are overseen by the Illinois Department of Employment Security, which provided staff support for the agreement. Under an important provision of the agreement, the new UI law will explicitly protect the interests of employers that terminate an employee who has demonstrated grossly negligent conduct and thereby engaged self or co-workers, or damaged an employer’s property. Under the revised UI law, these individuals will not be eligible to receive UI payments. There is an appeal process that provides administrative review, upon separation, to former workers who believe they were improperly treated.

In a key facet of the agreement, recently separated workers who are also eligible for Social Security will now be eligible to both collect Social Security and receive a full Illinois UI benefit. Under current Illinois law, Social Security recipients could only receive UI half-benefits. Moving to full UI benefits will lead to an addition $25 million/year being paid to Illinois senior citizens who have suffered layoffs.

HB 1285, with the UI amendment attached, unanimously passed the Senate on November 10 and is expected to be passed by the House when it returns on December 2.