Member Groups

The Challenge
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Racial and Ethnic Minorities and the Law

December 2003, vol. 14, no. 2

Amendment to Human Rights Act addresses employee use of language other than English in the workplace

On Friday, July 18, 2003, Governor Blagojavich signed Senate Bill 679 into law. This amended the Illinois Human Rights Act to provide that employers can no longer discriminate against their employees who speak multiple languages.

The new provisions state that an employer cannot institute a restriction which would prohibit an employee from using a language other than English in communications at the job which are unrelated to job duties. For example, an employer could not restrict his employees' conversations in a lunchroom in a language other than English. An employer can, however, still require that all employees communicate in English with respect to any job-related activities, such as communicating job duties to another employee or answering phones, etc.

The new amendment similarly does not forbid restrictions on slang or vulgar language, specifically stating that "language," as defined within the new law, means a person's native tongue and does not include slang or profanity. A reasonable restriction would bar such communication in any language.

The bill was first introduced to the Senate in February of this year by Senator Sandoval, and Senator Obama came on board shortly thereafter as a co-sponsor. In the House, the bill was sponsored by Representatives Acevedo and Fritchey. The bill received widespread support, passing the Senate with 58 yeas on concurrence vote and with 116 voting yes and only one voting no (Rep. Cultra) on third reading. The effective date for this new section of 775 ILCS 5/2-102(a)(5) will be January 1, 2004.

Full text of this can be found at <> under Senate Bill 679.


Yvonne M. Kato practices with the firm of Harigan & Cuisinier in Chicago. She is a member of the ISBA Standing Committee on Minority & Women Participation and is immediate past Editor of this newsletter.