New Protections Against Sexual Harassment: What You Need to Know

New Protections Against Sexual Harassment: What You Need to Know

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A new bill providing more protections for employees against sexual harassment and discrimination goes into effect on January 1, 2020. Changes to the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) will require that every employer in the state provide training on the prevention of sexual harassment. The training must clearly explain sexual harassment, provide specific examples, and identify employer responsibilities. 

Here’s what you need to know:

Highlights of the Bill

The new bill is all about expanding sexual harassment protections for employees. Key elements include: 

  • The Illinois Department of Human Rights is required to make sexual harassment training programs available to employers—including a separate program for restaurants and bars—who must provide training at least annually
  • Contract workers and consultants, who do not currently have them, will receive legal harassment protections
  • Victims of gender-motivated violence can take unpaid leave to seek medical or legal help or other assistance
  • Unions can’t represent both the victim and alleged harasser in disciplinary proceedings regarding sexual harassment

Developing an Effective Training Program

As I mentioned in an earlier post, it’s easier to keep employees than hire new ones. However, losing employees would be the least of your problems if you violate the terms of IHRA. Being compliant with the law is stating the obvious, but a conscientious sexual harassment prevention training program is critical for employee retention and engagement. 

Where do you start? 

Talk to your employees

“To make workplace culture safer and more inclusive, training must be a two-way dialogue in which employees provide insights, feedback, and are heard,” according to Crain’s Chicago Business. Employees understand the work environment and are often in the best position to inform training procedures.

Remember your values and customize your training

As an employer, return to your company values and design training around them. This influences workplace culture. Training should also be customized to the type of organization and teams. Different industries require different needs. There’s no such thing as off-the-shelf sexual harassment training that works. 

If you see something, say something

One element that all training should have is bystander intervention. If employees know how to recognize inappropriate behaviors, they can address and report them. 

How to Protect Yourself

Cross all the t’s and dot the i’s. Before January 1, evaluate and revise your sexual harassment and discrimination policies and procedures. Review and revise existing employment contracts, confidentiality agreements, separation/severance agreements, and arbitration agreements if applicable. Chicago Crain’s Business puts it best: “In the wake of the #MeToo movement—and with lawmakers finally dialing in to these issues and making concerted efforts to make real change in corporate America—companies are looking to demonstrate a commitment to their values. This new legislation is an opportunity for companies to do more than clear a legal threshold in workplace training.” 

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