Behind Illinois Workplace Harassment Laws
With stories about characters like Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein dominating the media in recent months, companies are understandably concerned about the climate within their organizations and ensuring that there is no harassment in the workplace of any kind.
Not only are employers stepping up to take action, but regulators are as well. Illinois is one of the states that recently enacted legislation to require employers to provide anti-harassment training for all employees—not just supervisors and managers. For organizations with boards, governing board members must also receive training.
Highlights of SB75
Illinois’ workplace harassment law – Senate Bill 75 (SB75) follows similar legislation to New York and California which mandates the delivery of training to address workplace bullying & harassment in Illinois. According to SHRM, SB75, signed into law on earlier this year:
- Prohibits unilateral agreements to arbitrate claims involving discrimination, harassment, and retaliation for discrimination or harassment
- Changes sexual harassment reporting and training requirements
- Affects how union representation is handled during proceedings related to sexual harassment
The legislation, which amends the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHA), now expands the requirement for annual sexual harassment prevention training to all employers.
Restaurants and bars must meet additional requirements, including training specific to manager liability and provide both English and Spanish language options.
What Illinois Workplace Harassment Training Must Encompass
This legislation specifies the type of information that must be included in workplace harassment training. Minimally, training must provide:
- A defining explanation of sexual harassment
- Examples of actions or behaviors that would constitute unlawful sexual harassment
- A summary of applicable state and federal laws and remedies for violations
- A summary of the employer’s responsibility to prevent, investigate, and correct sexual harassment
While these requirements must be covered in order to comply with the Act, we believe it is important for organizations to go beyond these requirements to ensure that their training efforts have maximum impact. It will come as no surprise to seasoned HR and L&D professionals that, despite the fact that they have been conducting this type of training for years, little improvement has been made. In fact, EVERFI’s work and research suggests that much of the sexual harassment training that has been delivered over the past several years may have done more harm than good.
A Better Approach
As we work with employers to help deliver training and education to help prevent harassment, we recommend some important best practices:
- Take a positive, not punitive, approach. Employees, even those strongly committed to building a healthy work environment, aren’t likely to respond positively to training that casts them as “the problem.”
- Arm your workforce with information, resources, and support. Employees need to serve as effective bystanders. They can be powerful participants in the quest to build a strong, respectful culture. It’s up to you to support them in fulfilling that role.
- Let the legalese take a back seat to pragmatic, actionable information. Few of your employees are legal experts and you shouldn’t expect them to be. Too much focus on laws and legal terminology can quickly steer employees in the wrong direction. Yes, the law must be covered, but you have flexibility in terms of how—and to what extent—you focus on this aspect of the training.
Illinois’ workplace harassment law – SB75 is just the third state in what is likely to be a long list taking action to bring stricter oversight and more specific requirements to how companies address sexual harassment training—and prevention.