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Are Workplace Sexual Harassment Protections Required in Illinois? 2019 Sexual Harassment Laws Explained

Article written by Illinois & Iowa Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
October 28, 2019

In a new 2019 law in Illinois, the state has expanded requirements for sexual harassment protections in the workplace.  In this article, we will discuss Illinois Sexual Harassment laws in 2019, answer the questions “Can an Employer Fire Someone for Reporting Sexual Harassment?” and “Is a business required to have a sexual harassment policy?” and we will finally explain what to do if you have been sexually harassed.

Illinois Sexual Harassment Law in 2019

The last few years have been defined by growing awareness of the widespread problem of sexual harassment and sexual assault, especially in professional or workplace settings.  This year, Illinois responded be evolving and expanding its laws regarding workplace sexual harassment. Illinois defines sexual harassment in the workplace as any any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or any conduct of a sexual nature.  The conduct can interfere with an employee's ability to perform their job, create a hostile or uncomfortable working environment, or be used (explicitly or implicitly) to determine decisions regarding employment.

Sexual harassment protection also extends to clients or customers of your business.  For example, if a client is making sexually-explicit remarks towards you, another employee, or another client, this may constitute workplace sexual harassment.  If you bring this up to a superior and they do not take action, you will have a potential case for sexual harassment as your employer has a duty to create a safe working environment and they did not follow through on their duty as an employer.

Can an Employer Fire Someone for Reporting Sexual Harassment?

Retaliation against an employee or co-worker who reports or experiences sexual harassment or assault in the workplace is illegal in Illinois based on the Human Rights Act.  Retaliation is any behavior meant to dissuade an employee from filing a sexual harassment report or participating in the investigation, as well as behavior or promises meant to entice them to recall their claims.  

Retaliation includes firing or demoting an employee for speaking out as well as offering a bonus or promotion for keeping silent.  Employer retaliation is illegal on the state and federal level, so if you have experienced retaliation because of your sexual assault claim, your employer should be legally accountable for that action. Witnesses can also face retaliation attempting to dissuade them participating in the investigation or encourage them to falsify or alter their recollection of events.

If you believe you are facing retaliation for your sexual harassment claim, as a survivor or a witness, you may benefit from reaching out to an employment or business attorney who can help protect your legal rights and insure you are being treated fairly by all parties.

Is A Company Required to have a Sexual Harassment Policy?

As of 2019, all companies who would like to do business with the state of Illinois are required to have an official sexual harassment policy.  This policy must protect its workers from harassment and promise to keep and promote a safe working environment for all employees.  It must also lay out consequences for employees who fail to meet this standard and steps for an employee to take if they believe they have experienced harassment.  The policy must be readily available to all employees.

Another 2019 addition is regarding the EDGE tax credit in Illinois.  EDGE is, in short, a tax credit program that rewards Illinois businesses for creating job growth, supporting capital investment, and improving the quality of life for Illinois citizens.  New 2019 law requires that all companies claiming EDGE tax credit in Illinois must have a sexual harassment policy.  If they do not have a policy, a business will be required to either make one that meets the standards above or they will not receive any tax credit from the state of Illinois.  

What to Do if You Have Been Sexually Harassed in the Workplace

Anyone can be a victim of sexual harassment regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race, or position.  Sexual harassment can have a real effect on the mental and emotional state of victims and must be taken seriously by employers.  If you have faced sexual harassment in your workplace, do not fear coming forward as legal protections are built in for your safety, even if the case does not go your way legally.

Here are the steps to take after you have experienced workplace sexual harassment:

  1. Be Heard.  Let the harasser know that what they are doing is inappropriate and making you uncomfortable.
  2. Note Your Experience.  It may be beneficial to immediately write notes or document your experience with any detail you can remember.  What exactly were the words or actions said?  What was the context?  Was anyone else around to witness what you experienced?  Any amount of detail can be significant in your report.
  3. Identify Witnesses.  Reach out to co-workers you trust. These co-workers can not only backup your story, but you coming forward may encourage others with similar stories to do the same.
  4. Notify Supervisors.  If you believe it may be appropriate, you can reach out to supervisors who may be able to assist you or help you better understand the harassment policy that is being enforced.  If you believe your supervisors may not be supportive, know that this step is not required.
  5. Report The Matter.  Your final step is to report your experience to the proper authorities.  At the state level in Illinois, you can report to the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  On a federal level, you can file a claim based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If the incident is criminal, you can also reach out to law enforcement immediately to report the event for your safety and the safety of others. You may benefit from using an attorney to find all your available options for reporting your claim.

Sexual harassment is a much too common, and sexual harassment in the workplace is a problem that the legal system is only recently beginning to fully acknowledge. These steps taken by Illinois law is one step towards further protections for sexual harassment victims. For similar reading, please check out our article "Does Stalking Law Include Social Media?"

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Can an Employer Fire Someone for Reporting Sexual Harassment in Illinois?

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