An introduction provides an opportunity to give employees an overview of the company’s history or philosophy, as well as explain the purpose of the employee handbook or personnel manual. It also may identify which employees are covered by the terms of employment contained in the handbook or manual and which employees, if any, are excluded from coverage. The introduction should at least state that the current handbook or manual supersedes any prior handbooks, manuals, or other inconsistent policy or benefit statements, as referred to in Employer resources. As discussed previously, such an integration clause ensures that employees may not claim that the terms of their employment were defined in other documents issued prior to the handbook or manual.
Because Illinois, like most states, recognizes the doctrine of at‑will employment, a statement to the effect that an employee’s employment is at‑will is vital. Employers should be careful when using phrases such as permanent employment, long‑term employment, or a promising career with the company, and should qualify such language with specific statements regarding the at‑will status of employment. While it is important that employees feel secure in their jobs, the use of such phrases may be viewed as inconsistent with the concept of at‑will employment.
A statement to the effect that the employer may change any of the handbook’s provisions at any time, with or without prior notice, is advisable because it is impossible to cover all possible future events or contingencies with a single document. This forewarning gives the employer the flexibility to cope with unforeseen circumstances by amending the handbook or manual when necessary.
Additionally, the use of the word summary prevents employees from claiming that every possible contingency is governed by the terms of the handbook. This gives the employer additional leeway to react in the proper manner to any situation that is not specifically covered by a provision in the written policies and procedures.
A statement that an employee with questions concerning the rules set forth in the handbook or manual should contact the human resources manager, or other specified management employee is important for two reasons. First, it opens lines of communication between the employer and its employees. Second, such a provision is a good tool to use in litigation with a former employee. If the employee claims that he or she did not understand a particular rule or policy, the employer can show that the employee had an opportunity to have the provision explained, yet chose not to do so.
A statement that no person other than the president may modify either the at‑will relationship or the terms of the handbook or manual also is important. It makes no sense to adopt a set of policies and procedures that may effectively be amended by nothing more than an offhand comment by a supervisor. Supervisors also should be instructed that they may not change the terms and conditions of employment for their subordinates. This provision also prevents anyone in the company other than the president from modifying an employee’s at‑will status.
It is the policy of the Company that all employees are employees at will for an indefinite period. All employees may terminate their employment at any time and for any reason or for no reason. Similarly, all employees are subject to employment termination at any time, for any reason or for no reason, with or without cause or notice.
No manager, supervisor, or employee of the Company has any authority to enter into an agreement for employment for any specified period of time or to make an agreement for employment other than at-will employment. Only the President of the Company has the authority to make any such agreement and then only in writing.
This policy may not be modified by any statements contained in this Handbook or any other handbooks, employment applications, offer letters, or other materials provided to applicants and employees in connection with their employment. None of these documents, whether singly or in combination, create an express or implied contract of employment for a definite period, nor any express or implied contract concerning any terms or conditions of employment. Similarly, Company policies and practices do not create any contractual obligation on the Company’s part or a requirement that termination will occur only for “just cause.” Statements of specific grounds for termination set forth in this Handbook or any other documents are examples only, and are not intended to restrict the Company’s right to terminate employees under this employment-at-will-policy.
A carefully-crafted offer letter is important to provide an applicant with a clear statement of the offered job duties, compensation, benefits, and work location so that there can be no questions regarding these details at a later point. An offer letter also provides an employer with an opportunity to re-affirm to the applicant that the individual’s status, if employed, will be at will, and to disclaim any expectation of an employment contract or specific benefits. Finally, an offer letter provides an employer with an opportunity to explain any conditions that exist with respect to the offer – for example, if the offer is conditional upon the individual passing a drug test, a background check, or a medical examination.
An equal employment opportunity statement helps to ensure compliance with federal and state civil rights laws. Federal civil rights statutes applicable to employment include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Equal Pay Act (EPA), and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). Title VII covers employers with 15 or more employees, as does the ADA and GINA. The ADEA covers employers of 20 or more employees. The EPA covers virtually all employers. These statutes prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of:
In addition, the Illinois Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of:
Unlike federal law and some state laws, the Illinois Human Rights Act provides protection for employees and job applicants based upon their sexual orientation.
The sample EEO Policy is designed for affirmative‑action employers covered by Executive Order 11246 (that is, federal government contractors with 50 or more employees and at least one government contract valued at $50,000 or more). Such employers are required by law to have a written EEO policy. The sample policy, therefore, may be more detailed than is necessary for most employers. Employers may eliminate the parentheticals after age and disability without adversely affecting the effectiveness of their policy. At a minimum, however, it is advisable for any employer to state unequivocally that it will not discriminate against those individuals in legally protected classes.
The final paragraph of this EEO policy is important because it demonstrates to managers and supervisors that the employer takes discrimination seriously. For federal government contractors covered by Executive Order 11246, one of the requirements is that managers be made to understand that they will be evaluated on their EEO and affirmative‑action compliance in the same manner as they will be on any other performance‑related criterion. Placing this message in the EEO policy also can be of assistance in showing that the employer did not undertake discriminatory actions intentionally.
The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) prohibits employers and other entities covered by GINA Title II from requesting, requiring, or purchasing genetic information of employees or their family members, and further prohibits employers from disclosing or making employment-based decisions on any such information it has. It applies to:
The EEOC recently issued regulations governing the act so this section has an expanded explanation of some of the requirements of GINA.
Under GINA it is illegal to discriminate against people because of genetic information. Employers cannot make employment decisions using such information, for example failing to hire, promote, or choosing to demote or fire someone. Under GINA, it is also illegal to harass a person because of his or her genetic information. Harassment can include making offensive or derogatory remarks about an applicant or employee’s genetic information, or about the genetic information of a relative of the applicant or employee. Harassment is illegal when it is so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted). The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area of the workplace, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee, such as a client or customer.
It is unlawful to retaliate against an applicant or employee for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in a discrimination proceeding (such as a discrimination investigation or lawsuit), or otherwise opposing discrimination.
The definition of an employee and a family member is broader than other laws. Under GINA family members extend to an individual’s fourth-degree relatives. That means, the term “family members” includes such distant relatives as great great grandparents, and children of first cousins. Family members also include adopted family members even though they do not share a common genetic makeup with the employee.
“Genetic information” includes an individual’s family medical history, the results of an individual’s or family member's genetic tests, the fact that an individual or an individual's family member sought or received genetic services, and genetic information of a fetus carried by an individual or an individual’s family member or an embryo lawfully held by an individual or family member receiving assistive reproductive services. Genetic information about a family member’s disease or disorder is considered one’s “family history.”
Genetic tests include any analysis of an individual’s DNA, RNA, chromosomes, proteins, or metabolites that detect genotypes, mutations, or chromosomal changes. Generally speaking, these can include any number of tests which may reveal an increased risk of acquiring a particular disease. Tests that are not considered genetic tests are tests for HIV, cholesterol, and tests for the presence of drugs or alcohol.
Employers generally may not request or require genetic information even non-deliberately. According to new EEOC regulations, a request for genetic information includes “conducting an Internet search in a way that is likely to result in obtaining genetic information, as well as ‘actively listening’ to third-party conversations or making requests for information about an individual's current health status in a way that is likely to result genetic information [sic].”
There are circumstances when an employer may legitimately come into possession of genetic information without violating GINA’s prohibition on requesting, requiring, or purchasing genetic information. However, any such acquired information must be kept confidential and not used by the employer. These circumstances include:
Whenever lawfully requesting information (for example, on a physician’s confirmation of medical condition form) employers should include the following disclaimer on the request:
The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) prohibits employers and other entities covered by GINA Title II from requesting or requiring genetic information of employees or their family members. In order to comply with this law, we are asking that you not provide any genetic information when responding to this request for medical information. “Genetic information,” as defined by GINA, includes an individual’s family medical history, the results of an individual’s or family member’s genetic tests, the fact that an individual or an individual’s family member sought or received genetic services, and genetic information of a fetus carried by an individual or an individual’s family member or an embryo lawfully held by an individual or family member receiving assistive reproductive services.
Whenever the notice is properly given it will provide a safe-harbor for employers, and any such acquisition will be considered inadvertent, and therefore not a GINA violation.
GINA requires employers who are in possession of genetic information to keep it confidential, in the same file as medical information and not in the personnel file. Such information may be disclosed only under at least one of the limited circumstances:
Prior to 1998, the law recognized two types of sexual harassment. “Quid pro quo” harassment existed when a supervisor or manager made employment advantages or disadvantages dependent upon complying with his or her sexual advances. The more common “hostile work environment” form of harassment existed when there was no link between sexual favors and employment advantages or disadvantages, but the work atmosphere was tainted by unwanted sexual jokes, propositions, touching, or leering.
In several court cases in the late 1990’s sexual harassment was redefined. The two types of potential harassment that currently exist are:
An example of harassment that results in a tangible employment action is a supervisor that gives an employee a poor performance evaluation because that employee previously had refused the supervisor’s sexual advances.
Hostile work environment harassment exists when there is no link between sexual favors and employment benefits, but the employee finds the work environment to be offensive. These claims are not limited to sexual harassment only, but apply to all types of workplace harassment based upon a legally protected characteristic.
An example of hostile work environment harassment would be an employee posting sexually explicit photographs in his work area, which another employee finds offensive to such a degree that he or she cannot perform the functions of his or her job.
The Civil Rights Act of 1991 has exposed employers to punitive and compensatory damages and jury trials for both types of sexual harassment as well as sex‑based harassment. Therefore, it is imperative that employers identify and eliminate acts of sexual harassment (harassment of a sexual nature) and sex‑based harassment (harassment based on a person’s gender) in the workplace.
In 2019, the Illinois General Assembly passed several laws impacting how employers deal with sexual harassment in the workplace. Part of that legislation, the Workplace Transparency Act, takes effect January 1, 2020. Under this act, employers are prohibited from including provisions that prohibit prospective, current or former employees from reporting allegations of unlawful conduct to federal, state or local officials for investigation. This law also requires mandatory sexual harassment training. More information can be found in Workplace harassment in the Illinois Human Resources Manual.
To download the model training program provided by the Illinois Department of Human Rights visit:
A written sexual harassment policy strictly condemning this type of conduct is a necessary first step. A strong sexual harassment policy is beneficial for several reasons:
When facing specific complaints of sexual harassment, employers must consider each claim with the utmost seriousness. Complaints should be investigated and resolved promptly, thoroughly and, to the greatest extent possible, confidentially. Obviously, confidentiality may be difficult if not impossible to maintain in many situations. If the employer concludes that improper conduct has occurred, then the alleged harasser should be disciplined accordingly. Under no circumstances should a victim of sexual harassment ever be punished by the employer – for example by being transferred to another department – rather than disciplining the individual responsible for the harassment.
Some sexual harassment policies state that the employer will discipline false claims of sexual harassment. Although such a provision is not unlawful, it may nonetheless cause a chilling effect upon reporting legitimate complaints of sexual harassment and is therefore not recommended.
While sexual harassment is the most well-known form of prohibited harassment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency responsible for enforcing the anti-discrimination and harassment laws described above, has turned its attention to harassment based on other protected characteristics, including, for example:
Under the Civil Rights Act of 1991, employers found liable for harassment are subject to jury trials, and employees can sue for compensatory and punitive damages. This increased risk of liability means that every employer should draft and maintain an up-to-date anti-harassment policy that goes beyond sexual harassment. As is the case with sexual harassment policies, the mere presence of such a policy may allow an employer to reduce or even to avoid liability.
Warning: It is imperative that employers consistently enforce its anti-harassment policy. For example, employers must reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs under Title VII, and may violate Title VII by banning all religious communications in the workplace. However, this does not mean that employers must allow one employee to proselytize co-workers if they object to it. Instead, the employer should allow religious expression to the same extent that it allows other types of personal expression that do not constitute harassment or disrupt the workplace.
Zero tolerance harassment policies make it clear that under no circumstances will sexual harassment be tolerated in the work environment. The policy needs to be clear about what does and does not constitute harassment (though it does not need to identify every action that could be considered harassment). The policy should also define how employees should report incidents of harassment or believed harassment. More importantly, the policy needs to address how you, as the employer, plan to respond to such incidents and allegations – and make sure this is followed on every occasion. A policy such as this must be enforced every time there is a violation. A zero tolerance policy, by definition, means that a company will not tolerate sexual harassment under any circumstances. As a result, these policies limit an employer's flexibility and should be implemented after careful consideration.
At the time of hire, employers are legally required to have the newly hired employee complete three forms:
In addition, the employer must report each newly-hired employee to the Illinois Department of Employment Security.
The W-4 form is used by the employer for payroll purposes. The W-4 form can be downloaded from the IRS website at:
These forms must be retained for a minimum of four years, however, it is generally advised to keep them for seven years.
The IL-W-4 form is used by the employer for state payroll purposes. Before December 1 of each year, have your employee review his or her Form IL-W-4. If your employee’s Illinois withholding allowances change, the employee must complete a new Form IL-W-4.The W-4 form can be downloaded from the Department of Revenue website at:
These forms must be retained for a minimum of four years, however, it is generally advised to retain them for seven years.
The federal I-9 form is used to document that all new employees are authorized to work in the country. This is a required document that should be kept in a separate folder apart from the employee’s general personnel file. The I-9 form contains information for the employer regarding how to complete the forms and the necessary documentation to request from a new employee.
The I-9 form, including a fillable PDF version, is located online at:
Note: The USCIS's most recent version of the Form I-9 is dated 10/21/2019. The revised Form I-9 expires 10/31/2022 and employers may not use prior versions of the form. For more information, please visit the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website at:
Employers must report each new hire to the Department of Employment Security within 20 days from the hire-date. Illinois is required to participate in a nationwide New Hire Registry that is used to locate absent parents who are not paying their court-ordered child support payments. This form enables Illinois to obtain the information for the New Hire Registry. This form can be downloaded at: