On August 9, 2019, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the Workplace Transparency Act into law, effective January 1, 2020, in the latest state effort to help prevent sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. The new bill addresses many aspects of workplace discrimination and harassment, including training provisions for all employees.
All employees must receive sexual harassment training
Illinois’ new law will require all employers to update their training practices, key policies, personnel forms, severance agreements and arbitration agreements. In particular, the law’s sexual harassment training provisions apply to all Illinois employers and require that:
- Employers provide training to all employees on an annual basis.
- Every bar and restaurant must have sexual harassment policies and training specifically tailored for the restaurant and bar industry.
- Interactive training meets or exceeds the standards of the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) model.
Law imposes greater restrictions on employers
Ensuring compliance with the new Illinois law will require a thorough review and possible revision of employment contracts, arbitration, severance and settlement agreements, employee handbooks and more. Key provisions of the new law:
- Limit the use of employment policies or other agreements — such as non-disclosure agreements, arbitration clauses, and non-disparagement clauses for cases involving harassment, discrimination and retaliation — to prevent an employee from reporting sexual harassment. Such agreements may not bar an applicant, employee or former employee from reporting unlawful or criminal conduct to a government agency.
- Extend protection from harassment and discrimination to include nonemployees — including contractors, subcontractors, vendors, and consultants.
- Make it illegal to discriminate against an employee based on the perception they are part of a protected class (such as gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity), even if they are not.
- Prevent union representatives from representing both a victim of sexual harassment and the alleged harasser in a disciplinary proceeding.
- Beginning July 1, 2020 and each July 1 thereafter, require all employers, labor organizations and units of local government to disclose the number of final, non-appealable adverse administrative or judicial decisions of sexual harassment and discrimination against them — entered anywhere in the U.S. — to the IDHR.
- Require all employers, labor organizations and units of local government to disclose the number of private settlements involving sexual harassment and discrimination claims — entered anywhere in the U.S. within the previous five years — to the IDHR, if requested to do so.
Illinois is the latest state to enact new laws aimed at combating sexual harassment in the workplace. Among the provisions of the Workplace Transparency Act, which goes into effect on January 1, 2020, is a requirement that all employers train their employees on sexual harassment prevention on an annual basis. Organizations must adopt a training program that meets or exceeds the model that the IDHR will publish in the near future, and restaurants and bars must tailor training to their unique work environment. As Illinois joins California, New York, Connecticut, Maine and Delaware in enacting stronger anti-harassment legislation, employers everywhere should take note of the heightened attention lawmakers are giving to addressing and preventing workplace harassment.