Illinois Law Requires Quick Action on Sexual Harassment Policies for Units of Local Government

In light of the recent spotlight in entertainment, government, media, and the law regarding unlawful harassment in the workplace, the Illinois legislature has recently taken action to ensure local governments have a handle on the problem. On November 16, 2017, the General Assembly passed Public Act 100-0554, which amends the Illinois State Officials and Employees Ethics Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act. The law prohibits sexual harassment and requires various state government and local governments to implement sexual harassment-related policies.

Most critically, the law requires “each governmental unit” to adopt an “ordinance or resolution” establishing a policy prohibiting sexual harassment. This must be adopted on or before Monday, January 15, 2018 (60 days after November 16, 2017).

The law also requires that policy to state four things, at a minimum:

  1. A prohibition on sexual harassment;
  2. Details on how an individual can report an allegation of sexual harassment, including options for making a confidential report to a supervisor, ethics officer, Inspector General, or the Department of Human Rights;
  3. A prohibition on retaliation for reporting sexual harassment allegations, including availability of whistleblower protections under the law, the Whistleblower Act, and the Illinois Human Rights Act; and
  4. The consequences of a violation of the prohibition on sexual harassment and the consequences for knowingly making a false report.

The requirement brings to light four potential issues.

First, this requirement most likely applies to all units of local government. While the term “governmental unit” is not defined in the law, a careful reading of this requirement in connection with other law and precedent is that the definition broadly applies to every unit of local government, including school districts.

Second, the law requires an ordinance or resolution be passed. Therefore, existing handbook or employee manual policies or rules may not necessarily be compliant with the black letter law of the requirement, depending on the origins of those policies or rules. Note, however, that it seems likely that an otherwise-compliant, existing ordinance or resolution would satisfy the new law.

Third, while governmental units are required to pass an ordinance or resolution compliant with the above four elements, additional details in the law are advisable to include in any updated ordinance or resolution. These include relevant definitions for “sexual harassment,” provisions for training, and detailed consequences for violating sexual harassment policies.

Finally, the law also states that the Illinois Department of Human Rights will establish a “hotline” to report sexual harassment no later than three months after the effective date of the Public Act. The hotline will consist of a phone number and an internet website. The hotline will provide for anonymous reporting to the Department, as well as resources and services to reporting individuals.

Given the short deadline, action is necessary immediately. Compliance with this requirement may be complicated by various factors, all of which should be considered quickly as we move closer to the deadline, including the holiday season; regular government meeting schedules; necessary public notice periods including agenda or any special meetings; and of course the lead time necessary to review, revise, or draft an ordinance or resolution, if needed.

Please contact Evan Bonnett of Hinshaw’s Rockford office or your regular Hinshaw attorney for assistance in reviewing these requirements or preparing the necessary documents.

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