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Chicago Amends its Human Rights Ordinance, Adding Steeper Penalties and New Employer Obligations

07/07/2022
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Chicago’s amended sexual harassment laws went into effect on July 1, 2022. The ordinance applies to companies employing at least one employee within the city.

What you Need to know

Under the amended Human Rights Ordinance, Chicago employers must:

  • Maintain a written sexual harassment policy
  • Provide the policy in the employee’s primary language to employees within the first calendar week of their employment
  • Post the notice in a conspicuous place in the workplace
  • Provide one hour of mandatory sexual harassment prevention training and one hour of bystander training to all employees
  • Provide an additional hour of training to supervisors and managers

The amendments also:

  • Enlarge the definitions of sexual harassment and sexual orientation
  • Lengthen the statute of limitations for all discrimination claims from 300 to 365 days
  • Increase the time for the Human Rights Commission to notify employers of a violation from 10 to 30 days
  • Impose new penalties for failing to comply with notice, posting and training requirements and increase the penalties from $500-$1,000 for other violations to $5,000 to $10,000 per violation

Required Written Sexual Harassment Prevention Policy and Notice

As of July 1, 2022, all employers in the city of Chicago must have a written policy on sexual harassment in their employees’ primary language. Employers must provide the written policy to their employees within the first calendar week of their starting employment and post a written notice at the workplace in a conspicuous location.

The policy must include:

  • A statement that sexual harassment is illegal in Chicago
  • A statement that retaliation for reporting sexual harassment is illegal in Chicago
  • A definition of sexual harassment and examples of prohibited conduct
  • Details on how employees may report sexual harassment and identify legal services available to employees
  • The requirement that all employees must annually participate in a minimum of one hour of sexual harassment prevention training (supervisors and managers must participate in two hours of training) and one hour of bystander training

The city has made model policies and written notices available on its website in English, Spanish, Polish, Simplified Chinese, Arabic and Hindi.

Required Annual Training

As of July 1, all Chicago employers must provide annual sexual harassment prevention training.  Managers and supervisors must receive two hours of sexual harassment training and one hour of bystander training. Nonmanagerial employees must receive a minimum of one hour of sexual harassment training and one hour of bystander training. This training must be completed by June 30, 2023.

View the city’s sample training modules here:

New Definitions of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Orientation

The amendments to the Human Rights Ordinance expanded the definition of prohibited sexual harassment to include “sexual misconduct.”

Sexual misconduct means “any behavior of a sexual nature which also involves coercion, abuse of authority or misuse of an Individual’s employment position.”

Sexual harassment also means:

  • “Unwelcome sexual advances or unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature”
  • “Requests for sexual favors or conduct of sexual natures, when submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment” or “submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for any employment decision affecting the individual”
  • Conduct that “has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment”

The definition of sexual orientation also has been modified to “a person’s actual or perceived sexual or emotional attraction, or lack, therefore, to another person.” It is illegal to discriminate against an employee or applicant because of their sexual orientation.

Longer Time Periods

The amendments increased the amount of time employees have to file a discrimination, sexual harassment or retaliation complaint with the Commission of Human Relations from 300 to 365 days. By contrast, employees only have 300 days to file similar complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Illinois Department of Human Rights.

The amendments also enlarged the time the Commission on Human Rights has to notify employers of a sexual harassment complaint from 10 to 30 days; the Commission still has only 10 days to notify employers of other complaints of discrimination, harassment or retaliation.

Penalties

The amendment authorized the Commission to issue fines between $500 and $1,000 for an employer’s failure to maintain a written sexual harassment policy, provide notices, display posters or provide required training. They also steepen the penalties for violating the Human Rights Ordinance to between $5,000 and $10,000 per violation. It will be very expensive to ignore these obligations, particularly since employees also have a private right of action and can recover their costs and attorneys’ fees.

For more information about how to best comply with these new heightened obligations under this amended ordinance, please reach out to Jeralyn Baran or a member of HMB’s team.

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