Chicago Updates its Anti-Harassment Law

UPDATED MAY 16, 2023: Chicago has published updated guidance clarifying that the new sexual harassment protections apply to all employers whose employees work in Chicago. 

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On April 27, 2022, the Chicago City Council amended the city’s sexual harassment ordinance with the express purpose of promoting zero tolerance of violence and harassment in the workplace.  The amendments will be part of the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance.

The ordinance retains the current directive that:

[n]o employer, employee, agent of an employer, employment agency or labor organization shall engage in sexual harassment. An employer shall be liable for sexual harassment by nonemployees or nonmanagerial and nonsupervisory employees only if the employer becomes aware of the conduct and fails to take reasonable corrective measures.

Employers are defined as “any individual, partnership, association, corporation, limited liability company, business trust, or any person or group or persons that provides employment to one or more employees in the current or preceding calendar year and any agent of such an entity or person[,]” that are subject to Chicago licensing requirements or maintain a business facility within city limits.

Employees are individuals “engaged to work in the City of Chicago for or under the direction or control of another for monetary or other valuable consideration.”

The amendments, which take effect July 1, 2022, bolster the city’s commitment to promoting safer workplace environments in six ways:

1. Expanded Definition of Sexual Harassment

The definition of sexual harassment is revised to explicitly include sexual misconduct:

“Sexual harassment” means any (i) unwelcome sexual advances or unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature; (ii) requests for sexual favors or 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; or (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for any employment decision affecting the 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; or (iii) sexual misconduct, which means any behavior of a sexual nature which also involves coercion, abuse of authority, or misuse of an individual’s employment position.

2. Required Written Policy on Sexual Harassment

As of July 1, 2022, all employers in Chicago must have a written policy on sexual harassment. The policy must include (a) a statement that sexual harassment is illegal in Chicago; (b) the definition of sexual harassment; (c) a requirement that all employees participate in sexual harassment prevention training and bystander training on an annual basis; (d) examples of prohibited conduct that constitute sexual harassment; (e) information on how to report sexual harassment, including instructions on how to make a confidential report using the company’s internal reporting mechanism and legal services available to employees who may be victims of sexual harassment; and (f) a statement that retaliation for reporting sexual harassment is illegal in Chicago. The policy must be available in the employee’s primary language within the first calendar week of starting employment.

In addition, employers must display a poster advising of the prohibition on sexual harassment in a place that is visible to employees.

The city will make available on its website a model sexual harassment policy in English, Spanish, Polish, simplified Chinese, Arabic, and Hindi, as well as a poster containing the required written notice, by the time the amendments take effect on July 1, 2022.

3. Longer Period to Notify Respondent

The city’s Commission on Human Relations, which monitors and enforces the Human Rights Ordinance, may extend the timeline to notify a respondent of a complaint being filed from 10 to 30 days. This is intended to diminish retaliation—for example, denial of a reasonable accommodation request under Illinois’ Victim’s Economy and Security and Safety Act.

4. Longer Period to Report Discrimination

The amendments lengthen the time for reporting all forms of discrimination, including sexual harassment, from 300 to 365 days.

5. Required Annual Training

All employers must provide annual training as follows: (a) one hour of sexual harassment prevention for all employees, or two hours for supervisors and managers; and (b) one hour of bystander training for all employees. The state provides a one-hour training template, which will be sufficient for the sexual harassment prevention training for non-supervisory/managerial employees. The city has stated that it will provide training modules on its website for the additional hour of training for supervisory/managerial employees and for the bystander training by the time the amendments take effect on July 1, 2022.  It is anticipated that the bystander training will focus on how onlookers can intervene if they witness harassment incidents.  All employees must receive their first round of required annual training by June 30, 2023.

6. Steeper Monetary Penalties

The amendments dramatically increase penalties for all forms of discrimination, including sexual harassment from the previous $500-$1,000 per violation, to $5,000-$10,000 per violation, paid to the city. Other penalties remain available as well, including damages paid to the complaining party, and attorneys’ fees.  In addition, the city may award injunctive relief designed to eliminate the practices at issue.

Employers must retain written records to show compliance with the ordinance, including records of the policies and trainings provided to employees, for the longer of five years or the duration of any claim, civil action, or investigation pursuant to the ordinance.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.