By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD — Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday signed into law a measure aimed at preventing workplace sexual harassment and protecting victims who come forward.
The measure, Senate Bill 75, was unanimously passed in both the state House and Senate earlier this year.
“We’re not only changing the law—we’re changing the culture. We’re standing with victims and saying enough is enough,” state Sen. Melinda Bush, a Grayslake Democrat who ushered the bill through the Senate, said in a news release. “With these measures in place, workers will have more protections under the law, and employers will be more proactive about educating employees and preventing these situations.”
The omnibus legislation was the result of months of legislative negotiations which combined several anti-sexual harassment initiatives into one all-encompassing bill.
According to a news release from the governor’s office, the new law “strengthens protections for employees, responsibilities for employers and accountability for abusers,” with particular attention given to hotels, casinos and state government.
“Sexual harassment is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the state of Illinois,” Pritzker said in a statement. “… This commonsense law makes it clear that the days of turning a blind eye to sexual harassment in the workplace are over.”
The new will take effect Jan. 1, 2020, with new casino and hotel regulations beginning July 1, 2020.
It requires all employers to provide workplace sexual harassment training at least once a year and advises workers on steps they can take after reporting incidents of harassment or discrimination. Restaurants and bars will be required to provide specialized training and to adopt anti-harassment policies.
It also requires employers to report findings and settlements concerning sexual harassment or unlawful discrimination to the Department of Human Rights.
Under the new law, failure to train employees or report these instances could result in a $500 penalty to businesses with fewer than four workers for the first offense, $1,000 for the second and $3,000 for offenses after that. For businesses with four or more employees, the fines would be up to $1,000, $3,000 and $5,000 for each respective offense.
The new law also prohibits employers from requiring employees to keep quiet or waive their rights regarding harassment, discrimination and retaliation. It bans employers from retaliating against employees who do speak out. It also allows victims of gender-related violence to take unpaid leave from work to seek medical help, legal assistance, counseling, safety planning and other assistance.
Hotels and casinos will be required to equip employees working alone with a panic button or other safety device, and must develop written anti-sexual harassment policies to protect employees against sexual harassment and sexual assault by guests.
The new law also prevents a union official from representing both a victim of sexual harassment and the alleged harasser in a disciplinary proceeding.
It also makes several changes to state ethics laws by ensuring harassment victims: have a right to testify before an ethics commission, can make an impact statement as part of the inspector general’s report, receive notice of their rights and the inspector general’s decision to open or close an investigation, and can review any inspector general summary report and suggest redactions.
Victims will also have a right to file a response to a summary report.
The bill, however, says any person, including those filing sexual harassment complaints, who receives a copy of the inspector general’s summary report “shall keep the report confidential and shall not disclose the report prior to the publication of the report by the Legislative Ethics Commission.” Any complainant who violates this part of the bill “shall be subject to an administrative fine by the Legislative Ethics Commission of up to $5,000.”
“While we have made significant strides within state government to make sure those who have endured unacceptable behavior are heard and respected, this measure expands our focus to acknowledge the challenges faced by women and at-risk individuals throughout our workforce,” state Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, the bill’s chief House sponsor, said in a news release.
The bill also requires local governments to provide for reporting and independent review of sexual harassment involving local elected officials, and expands the Human Rights Act to prohibit harassment against contractors.
Rep. Mark Batinick, a Plainfield Republican, was one of dozens of House co-sponsors on the bill.
“This year I was proud to sponsor many pieces of legislation to protect women and ensure their safety in the workplace,” he said in a statement. “This bill is a necessary addition to our arsenal and a step forward in making workplaces across our state better and safer places to work for every employee.”