With the passage of Senate Bill 75 and near guaranteed assurance that Governor Pritzker will sign the bill into law, Illinois has just outdone New York and California in creating the most comprehensive sexual harassment training requirement in the country.
Senate Bill 75 would require employers to provide annual sexual harassment training prevention to all employees working within the state. This sweeping change is based on the Illinois legislature finding that “tolerance of sexual harassment has a detrimental influence on workplaces by creating a hostile environment for employees, reducing productivity, and increasing legal liability.” The legislature sought to include its harassment training requirement in a sweeping package of legislation that included significant other changes to the law in that State.
By requiring training, the State of Illinois feels employers are less likely to engage in harassing practices and/or retaliatory employment actions. The legislature also feels a trained workforce is more likely to foster a culture wherein employees are comfortable reporting potential incidents and employers and managers will be more likely to create policies that counter the potential for incidents of workplace harassment.
Although we expect clarification and implementing regulations in the coming months, among the requirements of the new Illinois law include the following facets of a harassment program, which have become common to the variety of new laws passed in this area within the past year:
- An explanation of sexual harassment consistent with Illinois State Law
- Examples of conduct that constitutes unlawful sexual harassment
- A summary of relevant federal and state statutory provisions concerning sexual harassment, including remedies available to victims
- A summary of responsibilities of employers in the prevention, investigation and corrective measures of harassment
Training Every Year
As mentioned earlier, Illinois will require employers to train all of their employees at least once a year. While the state will be developing a model training program that will meet the minimum requirements of the law, employers are encouraged by the bill text to develop their own program or use that of a third party to fulfill the requirement.
Higher than Average Penalties
An interesting facet of the new Illinois law is the penalties provision, which shows Illinois is taking harassment prevention seriously. In addition to ordering non-compliant employers to train their employees within 30 days, Illinois has added a provision for financial penalties if employers choose to ignore such an order. Those penalties can range from $500 for a first offense for a very small employer to $5000 for a third offense for an employer with 4 or more employees. These penalties are certainly more than nominal, and should encourage employers of all sizes to get ahead of the curve in preparing their training programs.
Further, owners and managers of restaurants and bars in Illinois should be cognizant of the fact the new law enumerates specific provisions for those establishments as well. The state legislature found that restaurants and bars have a particularly high incidence of harassing behavior, and therefore are required to provide training that is specific to that industry and managers within. Syntrio will of course be developing a concurrent version of its Illinois training course that will fill the needs of restaurants and taverns.
Finally, while no date for training completion was included in the bill text, it is reasonable to expect that lawmakers expect training to be complete by January 1, 2020, as has been the pattern with other states implementing these laws. Should Illinois get the bill signed quickly by Governor Pritzker we can expect there will be implementing regulations by early this fall at the latest, as has been the pattern with New York and Delaware during calendar 2018. More to come as this law develops.