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New Ordinance Sends All Chicago Employees Back to Training

Labor & Employment Tracy Bradford Farley

Amendments to Chicago’s Human Rights Ordinance (“Ordinance”) that implement new policy and training requirements will take effect on July 1, 2022. The Ordinance imposes various requirements on Chicago employers regarding sexual harassment prevention that exceed their current policy and training obligations under the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"). Employers subject to these changes include employers having one or more employees engaged to work within Chicago's geographic limits. According to the Mayor’s Office, these changes have been made in an effort to “increase accountability across communities and within workplaces and dispel the myth that sexual harassment is a personal issue.”

Written Policy Requirements

Under the new Ordinance, all Chicago employers are required to have a written policy on sexual harassment, which at a minimum must include: (1) a statement that sexual harassment is illegal in Chicago; (2) the definition of sexual harassment as provided for in the Ordinance, which is broader than the definition under federal or state law in that it now includes sexual misconduct (defined as "any behavior of a sexual nature which also involves coercion, abuse of authority, or misuse of an individual's employment position"); (3) a summary of the training requirements for all employees; (4) examples of prohibited conduct that would constitute sexual harassment; (5) details on how to report sexual harassment within the organization as well as the legal services, including governmental, available to victims of sexual harassment; and (6) a statement that retaliation for reporting sexual harassment is illegal in Chicago. The written policy must be made available to employees in their primary language within the first calendar week of starting employment with a model sexual harassment policy being made available on the Chicago Commission on Human Relations ("CCHR") website by July 1, 2022. The Ordinance expands written policy requirements to all Chicago businesses, which differs from the previous IHRA written policy requirement that only applied to Chicago bars and restaurants.

Training and Notice Requirements

All employees are expected to receive a minimum of one hour of sexual harassment prevention training and one hour of bystander intervention training. Managers and supervisors are required to complete an additional hour of sexual harassment prevention training. The updated training must be completed no later than June 30, 2023 and annual retraining is required. The State currently provides IHRA-compliant sexual harassment training templates, which will remain sufficient for the one hour of sexual harassment prevention training for all employees under the new Ordinance. Employers may utilize their own training, but it must meet or exceed State requirements. Training modules for the additional hour of sexual harassment prevention training for managers and supervisors and the additional hour of bystander intervention training for all employees will be made available on the CCHR website by July 1, 2022.

Employers will also be required to display a poster in an area where employees commonly gather advising of the prohibition on sexual harassment. This poster must be displayed in English and Spanish and will be made available on the CCHR website by July 1, 2022. Employers should consider additional ways to display the poster for their remote employees to ensure compliance.

Recordkeeping

Employers must retain records regarding their compliance with the Ordinance, including their sexual harassment policy, training and posters, for at least five years or for the duration of any pending claim, civil action, or investigation under the Ordinance. Failure to comply with these recordkeeping requirements creates a rebuttable presumption that the employer violated the Ordinance.

Violations

Employers who violate the written policy, training or notice requirements under the Ordinance will be fined between $500 and $1,000 for each offense. The Ordinance also significantly increases the penalties for all forms of discrimination from $500-$1,000 to $5,000-$10,000 per violation. Each day that a violation continues will constitute a separate and distinct event.

In addition, complainants will now have 365 days, instead of just 300 days, to bring forth a claim of discrimination, including sexual harassment. A person against whom a sexual harassment claim is filed must be provided with a copy of the complaint within 30 days of its filing with the agency, an increase from the previous 10 day limit. This expanded notification period is intended to mitigate any potential retaliation, such as a denial of a reasonable accommodation request under the Illinois Victim’s Economic Security and Safety Act.

Recommendations

Employers with operations within Chicago should work with legal counsel to reevaluate their sexual harassment policies, training and posters to ensure compliance with the new Chicago Ordinance as well as existing requirements under the IHRA. In addition, states like California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New York and Washington have comparable training laws in place, so multi-state employers also may wish to consult with legal counsel in order to coordinate these state-specific requirements. For such assistance, please contact your local Quarles & Brady attorney or:

Special thanks to summer associate Rucha Shastri for her contributions to this article.

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