by Meganne Trela (December 2017)
The #metoo movement, along with the revelations of acts of sexual misconduct by prominent individuals in the political and entertainment arenas, recently ignited a discussion about sexual harassment in America. In Illinois, lawmakers passed new legislation aimed at preventing harassment by state and local government officials and employees. The new law, Public Act 100-0554, went into effect on November 16, 2017, after being signed by Governor Rauner. The law provides expanded avenues of recourse for victims and increased penalties for harassers.
Most notably, under the new law, sexual harassment is prohibited regardless of the existence of an employment relationship. Additionally, “the phrase ‘working environment’ is not limited to the physical location where an employee is assigned to perform his or her duties and does not require the existence of an employment relationship.” (5 ILCS 430/5-6) (emphasis added)
Furthermore, units of local government are required to adopt a resolution or ordinance establishing a policy prohibiting sexual harassment within sixty (60) days of the new law – by January 16, 2018 at the latest. The policy must:
- prohibit sexual harassment;
- include details on making a confidential report of sexual harassment to a supervisor, ethics officer, the Inspector General, or Illinois Department of Human Rights;
- prohibit retaliation for reporting sexual harassment allegations, including notification of the available whistleblower protections under the Act, the Whistleblower Act, and the Illinois Human Rights Act; and
- provide the consequences for violating the prohibition against sexual harassment or knowingly making a false report.
All local government entities should review current sexual harassment policies to ensure the policies meet the requirements of the new law and adopt the policies by way of a resolution or ordinance. Note that if a board previously adopted a policy on a mere motion, the board will need to readopt a policy by resolution or ordinance to be in compliance with this new law.
However, action on paper alone is not enough to prevent harassment in the workplace. In addition to making sure claims of sexual harassment are appropriately investigated and handled, employers need to engage their employees, supervisors, and board members in training that addresses the new Illinois law, legal liability for sexual harassment, and ways all individuals can work together to prevent sexual harassment and promote fairness in the workplace.
For assistance in reviewing current policies and drafting the appropriate resolution or ordinance, contact an attorney at Ottosen Britz. Additionally, the attorneys at Ottosen Britz are available to provide the necessary sexual harassment training for Board members and employees.