by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer

CHICAGO (CBS) — Meeting virtually for the fourth time during the pandemic, the City Council on Wednesday approved a handful of measures to protect employees and provide breaks to businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Among the ordinances aldermen approved, one would prohibit employers from firing, demoting, transferring, suspending, or reducing the pay of workers who stay home because they are have tested positive for the virus or are sick with symptoms of the disease, are under a quarantine or isolation order, or are caring for someone else who is.

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“This is an important work of protection. We did this because no one should ever have to choose between their livelihood, and the health of themselves and their community during this deadly pandemic,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said after the unanimous vote to approve the anti-retaliation ordinance.

Current public health orders in Illinois require people to stay at home if they are sick from COVID-19, if they have been exposed to someone else who tested positive for the virus, or if they work at a business deemed non-essential by the governor’s executive order.

Non-essential retail businesses have been allowed to provide pick-up or delivery of orders placed by phone or online as “minimum basic operations.” The ordinance would provide protections for any employee asked to come to work for any reason beyond those minimum basic operations.

Violations of the ordinance would be punishable by fines of up to $1,000 per offense per day. Businesses that mistakenly believe they have fired or demoted an employee in compliance with public health directives would not be fined if they can show they “relied on a reasonable interpretation” of the directives, and fix their mistake within 30 days.

Employees who face retaliation also could file suit against their employer for up to three times the amount of lost wages.

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Aldermen also approved an ordinance to temporarily suspend business license renewals due to the pandemic. Business owners in Chicago wouldn’t have to pay to renew their licenses until the end of June, or whenever the Chicago Department of Public Health determines the health risk from COVID-19 has sufficiently diminished to begin reopening, whichever date comes earlier.

The measure also would waive the collection of late fees for expired licenses, and defer collection of the wheelchair accessibility fee charged to taxicab operations and ride-share services. Cab companies pay a fee of $22 per month, while ride-hailing services pay 10 cents per ride.

In another effort to protect business owners, the City Council approved rent breaks for vendors at O’Hare and Midway airports, who have seen their business plummet due to the steep decline in air travel.

Airport restaurants and shops would get waivers on their base rent in April and May. Normally those businesses also are required to pay the city a percentage of their sales, or a “minimum annual guarantee,” but those fees would be deferred until individual vendors’ sales recover to 75% of last year’s levels. That deferral would last up to two years.

Rental car companies at the airports would get a three-month wavier on their rent (April through June), and advertisers and WiFi providers at O’Hare and Midway would get two month waivers (April and May).

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Meantime, Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) introduced an ordinance that would require the city to refund license fees for any businesses that shut down for 30 days or more due to the pandemic. The measure, which will go to the License Committee for a vote, would give the city 60 days after the governor’s stay-at-home order is lifted to issue refunds.