Sexual harassment training for Illinois employers has become a hot-button issue lately in light of recently passed state laws. The State of Illinois has passed laws combatting sexual harassment in specific workplace settings. For example, state agencies and lobbyist employers have new sexual harassment laws that these employers must implement and follow. Additionally, employees of these employers must comply with mandated sexual harassment training. If you would like further guidance or counsel on implementing or updating sexual harassment training for Illinois employers or your workplace, contact Jill Dougherty at Employment Law Plus today at 312-878-6008.
For employers that don’t fit into the above organizational categories, don’t think you’re off the hook for sexual harassment training. Offering training to your managers and employees should be mandated within your organization as a best practice. By adopting such proactive measures, you may prevent sexual harassment occurrences within your workplace.
Let’s review the recent changes in Illinois law as well as some best practices you should consider.
New 2017 Illinois Sexual Harassment Law
On November 16, 2017, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed Public Act 100-0554 (the “Act”), which introduced new sexual harassment rules for certain employer organizations. First, the Act amended the Illinois State Officials and Employees Ethics Act (the “Ethics Act”), requiring employees in the Illinois General Assembly, the state’s executive offices, and the state’s agencies to complete mandatory annual sexual harassment training.
Second, the Act provided an additional amendment to the Ethics Act requiring state government leaders and employees to complete a mandated annual sexual harassment training beginning in 2018. For these state employees, the Act requires a report summarizing the training program as well as a detailed list of those individuals failing to complete the annual training each year.
Local Governmental Entities Impacted by New Law
The Ethics Act was also amended to require employees of local governmental units, including school districts, to establish policies prohibiting sexual harassment, also required by state agencies. However, local governmental units are not required to issue mandatory training for employees. Although the new Act does not require compulsory training, it would be a prudent best practice to institute annual employee training on sexual harassment.
Registered Lobbyists Impacted by New Law
Third, the Act amends Illinois’ Lobbyist Registration Act. Any registered lobbyist in Illinois is now required to complete an annual mandatory sexual harassment training beginning January 1, 2018. Lobbyists must complete training no later than thirty days after they register as a lobbyist or complete their renewal. The Illinois Secretary of State shall track such requirement of training at registration or renewal.
Penalties for Non-Compliance with New Law
Any employers that don’t comply with the Act, including the mandatory training requirements, may be subject to civil and criminal penalties. Any claims of action brought against the organization for sexual harassment are separate and independent from the penalties for non-compliance with the Act.
Take Note: Legal Movement Across the Country
Although the types of Illinois employers that are subject to mandatory sexual harassment training is limited, all employers should take note. Most states have passed similar laws to those in Illinois in the past couple of years whereas some states have passed laws that are broader. This area of the law has quite a bit of movement.
Best Practices for All Other Organizations
Even if the new laws above don’t apply to you as an employer, offering training to your employees should be mandated within your organization as a best practice. As an employer, you want a proactive approach to risk reduction arising from employee issues, such as sexual harassment claims.
Think about the answers to these questions. Do you have sexual harassment training now? Do you offer it annually? Do you document your training? Do you conduct training in-house? Do you have a third-party provide your training? Is your content current? When did you last update your training? Do your employees understand it? Or do they tune out during training?
EEOC Sexual Harassment Training Guidelines
Sexual harassment training for Illinois employers, even as a best practice, should be conducted regularly and prudently. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) recently issued sexual harassment training guidance to employers. In doing so, the EEOC stated that “[r]egular, interactive, comprehensive training of all employees may help ensure that the workforce understands organizational rules, policies, procedures, and expectations, as well as the consequences for misconduct.”
Tailor Your Content to Your Workforce
When training, organizations should consider tailoring their content and delivery to their organization and employees. Keep in mind employee shifts, the characteristics of the work, the type of workplace, and the employees themselves when crafting the training.
Additionally, the training should be supported by leadership, repeated regularly, provided to all employees, and offered in all languages commonly used by employees. Use different methods of training as well. Consider live training, e-training, and mobile training. Further, be sure to re-evaluate the training regularly, not just be management but also by the employees.
Use Examples and Explanations
For specifics in training, add examples of what qualifies as harassment. Give information about employees’ rights and responsibilities. Explain the complaint process and what happens during an investigation of a complaint. Explain possible consequence of engaging in prohibited conduct. Explain the prohibition of retaliation from making a claim.
Consider the Roles of Your Managers
Managers and supervisors have additional responsibilities in your organization. Because they do, they need to be trained on some other sexual harassment components. For example, managers and supervisors need to be trained on handling alleged harassment situations they observe. How can they identify risk? What is their role in identifying risk?
Managers and supervisors should understand how to handle situations when employees report alleged harassment situations to them. How do they report up the chain of command? What are the confidentiality rules? What are the documentation rules? Managers and supervisors must be trained appropriately to help mitigate risk on behalf of the organization.
Benefits of Instituting Sexual Harassment Training
With one in five adult employees reporting being sexually harassed at work, being proactive and mitigating risk through sexual harassment training is critical. Employers need to be aware of potential sexual harassment in the workplace and implement creative and innovative ways to combat such illegal behavior. By instituting effective training programs, for employees and managers, employers can educate their workforce on unlawful conduct and the consequences for such behavior. By educating and training employees on the legal in’s and out’s of sexual harassment, employers can create a pleasant, productive work environment for their employees.
If you need to have additional questions or need help designing or implementing a sexual harassment training for Illinois employers, please give us a call at Employment Law Plus.