On a national basis, more and more companies are finding it necessary to implement workplace training designed to help supervisors and others recognize and halt sexual harassment. In many areas, it is not mandatory, but in some states, such as Illinois, harassment prevention has been voted into state law.

And although sexual harassment training and legal requirements relating to it change rapidly, there are some very clear rules. In Illinois, the “omnibus bill called the Workplace Transparency Act… passed in response to the growing number of sexual misconduct allegations being made in a variety of industries.”

According to a 2019 article in the Chicago Tribune, these new laws require firms with more than 15 employees to annually train them in sexual harassment prevention. The laws initially focused on larger firms but also mandates that a firm with at least one worker has to comply with training by the middle of 2020.

Harassment prevention in Illinois - Sexual harassment prevention training

What the Law Says

The law, SB75 (which amended the Illinois Human Rights Act), will require all employers to “provide sexual harassment prevention training to all employees within the state each year.” That training must feature:

  • Full explanations of sexual harassment
  • Illustrations and definitions of conduct that would constitute unlawful sexual harassment
  • Summaries of federal and state statutory provisions, including remedies available to victims of sexual harassment
  • A detailed explanation of the responsibilities of an employer where the prevention, investigation, and any corrective measures around sexual harassment are concerned
  • Industry-specific sexual harassment training for owners of bars and restaurants (in English and Spanish)

The Illinois Department of Human Rights has been tasked with designing a curriculum that will be made available to businesses, however, the department also approves of the use of online training videos.

Who Is Required to Train in Illinois?

As noted, all employees require training – and that includes short-term, part-time, and full-time employees as well as interns. Additionally, according to legal experts, the “Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) strongly recommends that independent contractors receive training, especially if they work on-site or interact with the employer’s staff.” And yet, new laws do not require employers to train independent contractors.

And if an employer hires someone already trained at another firm, the guidelines recommend that those new hires still receive training. All employers will have to document each employee’s history in sexual harassment training, and that it is compliant with the Illinois Human Rights Act.

Also, there is a special requirement for restaurants and bars, and this training must feature look at “Specific conduct, activities, or videos related to the restaurant or bar industry…An explanation of manager liability and responsibility under the law…English and Spanish options.”

As the Chicago Tribune also reported, on top of the mandated training, the new laws will also extend “protections to contract workers, limits the use of arbitration and nondisclosure agreements.”

What Are Training Deadlines?

Employers must be in full compliance by the last day of 2020 and must document all training. The Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) may request records for inspection, and it is advised that all records feature one of the following: “a certificate of completion, a signed employee acknowledgment, or a course sign-in sheet.”

Training must be repeated annually, and the guidelines recommend that employers train their new hires as soon as possible after hiring them. This is because employers are liable for any harassing conduct of a new hire as soon as they begin working, and the training is the only way to reduce liability.

Failure to train is a direct violation of the IHRA and leaves the employer liable to civil penalties that include $500 for firms with fewer than four employees, and $1000 for those with five or more. Repeat violations result in $5000 penalties per violation. Employees with multiple employers (such as part-time workers with multiple jobs) must supply employers with proof of training. If there is any doubt of training, an employer is encouraged to mandate that their new hire take the training.

Who Supplies Training?

While the burden of ensuring proper training and legal compliance is always on the employer, the employers themselves are not obliged to conduct training. Only licensed professionals can supply harassment training under Public Act 100-0762 in Illinois. These are people who meet the “annual continuing education requirements that are overseen by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Responsibility (IDFPR),” and who “must complete at least one hour of sexual harassment prevention training annually.”

And like several other states, Illinois is requiring their training to be interactive, indicating that the employees will have to participate in the training. Reading from manuals or online guides is not acceptable. While some training is done using skits, others feature interactive video scenarios and digital training.

This may be the optimal approach for many firms as it will allow employees to take training via a computer and at their own pace. While classroom sessions are traditional, they are often too difficult to easily organize when many new hires occur throughout a calendar year. Rather, the interactive digital classes are available around the clock and enable easier learning and training that helps employers remain compliant and ensures a safer Illinois workplace.