Employers Must Train Illinois Employees on Sexual Harassment Prevention by January 1, 2021

This year, Illinois joined a growing number of states that require employers to provide comprehensive sexual harassment training. The Illinois Workplace Transparency Act (IWTA) provides that “every employer with employees working in [Illinois]” must provide sexual harassment prevention training “at least once a year to all employees.” This includes part-time employees and unpaid interns, but not independent contractors, although training for those workers is encouraged.

The IWTA defines “employer” as “any person employing one or more employees within Illinois during 20 or more calendar weeks within the calendar year.” Therefore, this training requirement may apply to employers who largely conduct operations outside Illinois, so long as they have at least one employee working in Illinois for 20 or more calendar weeks. The requirement would apply to Illinois workers alone, not employees working in other states. 

The IWTA was passed in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic and before an unprecedented number of employees began working from home on an extended basis. Nevertheless, the increase in remote work means that the training requirements will now apply to more employers in Missouri and other neighboring states, many of which have no physical presence in Illinois. 

To assist employers in complying with the new training requirements, the Illinois Department of Human Rights has created a model sexual harassment prevention training program, which is available here. In lieu of using the model training, employers may fashion their own training program, so long as it meets or exceeds four basic requirements:

  1. The training must define sexual harassment as “any unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or any conduct of a sexual nature when (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment, (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment”;
  2. The training must provide examples of conduct that constitutes unlawful sexual harassment;
  3. The training must summarize the relevant federal and Illinois state statutory provisions concerning sexual harassment, including remedies available to victims of sexual harassment; and
  4. The training must summarize the employer’s responsibilities in preventing, investigating, and correcting sexual harassment in the workplace.

This is the first year of Illinois’ new training requirement, and employers have until the end of the 2020 calendar year to provide their first annual training.

If a covered employer fails to provide the training by December 31, 2020, the Illinois Department of Human Rights may issue a notice giving the employer 30 days to provide the required training. If the employer fails to come into compliance during the 30-day period, a civil penalty may be imposed. For employers with fewer than four employees, the penalty may not exceed $500 for the first offense; and for employers with four or more employees, the penalty may not exceed $1,000 for the first offense.

If you have any questions about the new training requirements or need assistance with implementation, please reach out to a member of the Lewis Rice Labor & Employment Practice Group.