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How would the Worker Freedom of Speech Act affect employees?

On Behalf of | Jun 1, 2024 | EMPLOYMENT LAW (EMPLOYEE) - Workplace Discrimination

We’ve all seen politicians speaking in front of a group of workers who mostly looked like they were being held hostage – or at the very least, highly uninterested — even though they may have been holding signs with the candidate’s name or slogan. That’s just one example of the kind of gathering that can no longer be mandatory for Illinois employees if Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs legislation that has been passed by state lawmakers. 

What’s known as the “Worker Freedom of Speech Act” allows employees to opt out of workplace meetings where religion or politics are being discussed. Championed by labor leaders, the legislation would make it illegal to “discharge, discipline, or otherwise penalize” a workplace meeting “about religious or political matters,”

Just what are “religious or political matters?”

Under the proposed law, “religious matters” include discussions of religious affiliation, belief, practice or affiliation. “Political matters” include laws, elections and calls to join political parties, advocacy groups and unions. 

Concern about employer anti-union messages no doubt has been part of labor leaders’ attention to the legislation. The head of the Illinois AFL-CIO labor organization said that employees don’t go to work to “be indoctrinated by anyone’s religious or political beliefs.” 

Opponents of the legislation have argued that it stifles free speech. However, another AFL-CIO state official says that all it’s meant to do is “protect employees if they decide not to engage.” A handful of other states have similar laws in place.

What is an employee’s recourse?

If the Worker Freedom of Speech Act is signed into law, employees will have the right to file a lawsuit against their employer if they have faced negative workplace action, including being fired, because they didn’t attend a meeting covered by the law. They would also be able to file a complaint with the Illinois Department of Labor if such a meeting is held, even if they face no negative consequences.

Illinois is among the more “worker-friendly” states. However, laws change all the time. It’s always crucial to know your rights and how to assert them. Having legal guidance can help.