A mass vaccination site for union workers in Chicago. Credit: Heidi Zeiger/Chicago Mayor's Office

CHICAGO — A measure that protects Chicagoans from workplace retaliation for taking time off to receive a coronavirus vaccine — and includes up to four hours paid time off for some employees — received key committee approval Tuesday.

Under the measure, employers would be prohibited from requiring employees to schedule a vaccine during non-work hours. They also wouldn’t be allowed to take “any adverse action” against workers who take time during a scheduled shift to be vaccinated, including firing or disciplining the worker.

Employers who require employees to be vaccinated would have to compensate the worker up to four hours per dose at their regular rate of pay if the worker’s appointment falls during a work shift. Those employers cannot require workers to use paid sick time or time off to pay for the missed hours.

At workplaces that do not require workers to be vaccinated, workers would be permitted to use paid sick leave or accrued paid time off to be vaccinated.

Workplaces that violate the ordinance would be fined $1,000-$5,000.

The ordinance was introduced last month by Mayor Lori Lightfoot before being unanimously approved by the Committee on Workforce Development Tuesday, signaling it will likely be passed by the full City Council next week.

The measure will go into effect immediately if at least two-thirds of the City Council approve the measure; otherwise, it will take effect 10 days after passage.

“The only way to get out of this pandemic is through widespread vaccination. We must do everything in our power to make it easy for workers, especially the most vulnerable who need to receive this vaccine,” Rosa Escareno, commissioner of the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, told the committee.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) supported the ordinance, saying it was the “bare minimum for public health and for workers’ rights.”

“The sooner that we can get more people vaccinated, the sooner we can ensure that we’re taking steps to protect the health of the entire world. So we’ve got to make sure that workers have the ability to get their Fauci ouchie,” he said.

The workplace protection ordinance comes as the city is in a race to vaccinate the population as cases of coronavirus rise. Just 21.1 percent of Chicagoans are fully vaccinated against the virus.

When introducing the measure last month, Lightfoot said it is part of a broader effort to protect workers.

“Our essential workers have kept this city running throughout the pandemic. And as we near the end of the crisis, no worker should have to choose between keeping their job and getting the COVID-19 vaccine,” Lightfoot said.

City officials did not provide specific examples or any information about how widespread an issue this is.The measure is an expansion of the Anti-Retaliation Ordinance, which passed City Council in May, allowing workers to take time off without retaliation if they showed symptoms of COVID-19.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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