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A Simple Guide to Understanding Illinois Harassment Laws

Like every other state in the US, Illinois harassment laws protect employees in the workplace. You will find them in chapter 720, Article 26.5 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes (720 ILCS 5/Art. 26.5).

What this means is that workplace harassment is a criminal offense in Illinois with legal consequences for those found culpable. Moreover, companies risk getting fined up to thousands of dollars if it is established that they haven’t put up the right measures to prevent and deal with workplace harassment.

Japan automaker, Toyota, is the latest company to have to pay a settlement for a harassment case. But, it wasn’t even the settlement fee that stole the headlines but rather the fact that the victim ended up committing suicide.

Yet another reason why taking necessary steps to eradicate workplace harassment needs to be a top priority for every employer. And, it all starts with training the employees on the harassment laws as outlined under Illinois harassment law workplace requirements.

This guide is about simplifying these laws so that even the average citizen can understand them.

I’ll never understand lawmakers and their need to make legal documents so unnecessarily complex. We get it, law school is torture but, it doesn’t mean we all suffer because of it.

Legal Definition of Workplace Harassment

Under Illinois law, workplace harassment means knowing conduct that is not necessary to accomplish a purpose that is reasonable under the circumstances, that would cause a reasonable person emotional distress and does cause emotional distress to another.

See what I mean? You have to read the statement several times to understand it and even then it’s not entirely clear what it means.

Now to put it simply, what constitutes harassment in Illinois is a persistent and deliberate act that is not part of the job description and one that subjects another employee to emotional or physical distress.

There are two forms of workplace harassment recognized by Illinois law.

Harassment by telephone - (720 ILCS 5/26.5-2) Sec. 26.5-2

According to Illinois law, a person is considered to have committed telephone harassment if they use telephone communication for any of the following purposes:

  • Making any comment, request, suggestion, or proposal which is obscene, lewd, or vulgar to a reasonable person with the intent to offend.
  • Making a call with the intent to abuse, threaten, or provoke the person on the other end of the line. It does not matter if any conversation ensues.
  • Causing a person’s telephone to ring repeatedly with the intent to harass them. In this case, the said person has refused to take your call but you are still calling persistently.
  • Making repeated calls where conversation ensues with the intent to harass the person on the other end. In this case, the said person picks up the phone and makes it clear you are harassing them but still, you continue calling.
  • Making a telephone call or knowingly inducing a person to make a telephone call for the purpose of harassing another person who is under 13 years of age, regardless of whether the person under 13 years of age consents to the harassment. This provision can only be effected if the defendant is at least 16 years of age at the time of the commission of the offense.
  • Knowingly permitting your telephone to be used for any of the purposes mentioned above.
Now, someone might ask, what if an employer makes repeated calls or causes an employee’s phone to ring repeatedly to follow up on an unfinished project. Does that qualify as harassment?

Well, not according to the law because the call is work-related. However, if the employer uses derogatory remarks or obscene language in their calls that cause emotional distress to the employee, that’s harassment.

Another important detail that both employers and employees should know is that under Illinois law telephone companies are obligated to share information with the government to help prove harassment by telephone claims. 

Harassment through electronic communications - (720 ILCS 5/26.5-3) Sec. 26.5-3

A person is considered to have committed harassment through electronic communications if they use electronic communication for any of the following purposes (720 ILCS 5/26.5-3) Sec. 26.5-3)

  • Making any comment, request, suggestion, or proposal which is obscene, vulgar, or filthy to a reasonable person with the purpose to harass.
  • Interrupting someone's telephone call or electronic communication with the intent to harass.
  • Sending any form of electronic communication to someone with the intent to harass and in so doing, preventing the victim from using their telephone service or electronic communication device. It doesn’t matter if the communication is read in its entirety or not read at all.
  • Transmitting an electronic communication or knowingly inducing a person to transmit an electronic communication for the purpose of harassing another person who is under 13 years of age, regardless of whether the person under 13 years of age consents to the harassment.  Similarly, this provision can only be effected if the defendant is at least 16 years of age at the time of the commission of the offense.
  • Using electronic communications to threaten another person, their property, or their family or household members.
  • Knowingly permitting your electronic device to be used for any of the purposes mentioned above.

How do you define Intent to harass under Illinois law?

As you may have noticed in the outlined laws, an action has to be done with harassment as the objective for it to be considered a crime. So, how exactly do you determine that a person intended to harass the other person?

Well, according to Sec 26.5-4 of the 720 ILCS, continuing to contact someone via telephone or electronic communications after they, their family, or household has made it clear they don’t wish to communicate with you is evidence of intent to offend.

Penalties for workplace harassment

Depending on the severity of the offense, workplace harassment charges can fall in any of the three levels.

Class B misdemeanor

A person is charged with a class B misdemeanor if they are found guilty of harassment by telephone or harassment through electronic communications and it’s their first offense. There is no mandatory penalty for first-time violations but you could end up paying up to $1,500 in fines or going to county jail for up to 180 days.

Class A misdemeanor

A person is charged with a class A misdemeanor if they are found guilty of telephone harassment or harassment through electronic communications and it’s their second or subsequent violation. Class A misdemeanor attracts a mandatory penalty of at least 14 days in county jail or 240 hours of community service.

Worst case scenario, you could go to jail for up to 364 days or pay a fine of up to $2,500.

There are three levels of severity as outlined in Sec. 26.5-5 of the Criminal code of 2012. They are as follows.

Class 4 felony

A person is charged with a class 4 felony if they are found guilty of telephone harassment or harassment through electronic communication and in addition, any of the following circumstances are true.

  • In the last 10 years, the offender has had 3 or more charges of harassment by telephone, harassment through electronic communication, or a similar offense in another state.
  • It’s not the first case of the offender harassing a particular victim or a member of the victim’s family or household. They have had a similar case in a different state.
  • The offender committed the harassment act while on bail, probation, conditional discharge, mandatory supervised release, or was the subject of an order of protection, in this or any other state, prohibiting contact with the victim or a member of the victim’s family or household.
  • In the process of harassment, the victim threatened the victim’s life or that of their family or household member.
  • In the last 10 years, the offender has been convicted of a forcible felony. Under sections 2-8 of the Illinois criminal code of 2012, a forcible felony is defined as any felony that uses or threatens to use physical force or violence against an individual. Some examples include murder, sexual assault, burglary, and kidnapping. Treason is also a forcible felony under Illinois law.
  • The harassed victim is a person under 13 years of age while the offender is 16 years or over.
  • The offender is 18 years and over at the time of the commission of the offense while the victim is under 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the offense.

How to deal with workplace harassment

In this next section, we'll go over the different ways to cope with the various types of workplace harassment that can create a hostile work environment.

Harassment by telephone

The first step to dealing with telephone harassment is to prevent it from happening in the first place. To start with, only give your phone number to people you trust and consider friends. Some relationships in the workplace are meant to remain just that. Office relationships.

Still, there are other times when you won't be able to prevent it. In that case, the recommended course of action is to tell the caller to stop the harassment and then hang up. If they continue to call and send messages after that, just ignore them.

Continuing to engage them will only encourage them to harass you more. Moreover, remember to never allow your harasser to trigger you. Admitting annoyance through your words or action will only serve to encourage your tormentor.

If the harasser threatens you or uses language that you consider obscene then it's time to escalate the matter to the relevant authority. In a workplace environment, report the matter to management.

As prove of harassment, keep a log of the calls and messages including the date, time, phone number, and duration of the call.

What if you forgot to record the calls? Don't be afraid to report harassment. Under Illinois law, telephone companies have a legal obligation to cooperate with law enforcement agencies in using their facilities and personnel to detect and prevent workplace harassment.

Harassment through electronic communications

The steps to dealing with harassment through electronic communications are basically the same as dealing with telephone harassment. First, make it known to the other person that they are bothering you and need to stop.

After that, don't engage them further or admit annoyance or any other emotion through your words. Finally, make sure you have a log of all the communications with the harasser to serve as evidence.

When you finally feel that the harasser won't leave you alone, then it's time to escalate the matter to human resources.

Employer's role in preventing and dealing with workplace harassment

An employer's main responsibility is to train their employees on workplace harassment prevention. It's also the employer's responsibility to make sure the company has well-laid out policies that define the correct steps to take if there is a case of harassment.

In this post, we have only looked at two forms of harassment. However, to ensure complete compliance with Illinois laws, the company policies need to include every form of workplace harassment. And as you can imagine, keeping up with all the provisions that govern workplace conduct is no easy task.

That's where we come in. EasyLlama takes all the hassle out of Illinois workplace harassment training. Our comprehensive software makes an otherwise dull and exhausting task more interesting by incorporating videos, quizzes, and relatable real-life scenarios throughout the program.

And thanks to EasyLlama it has never been easier to track your employee's training progress. There are also free training programs you can utilize including the state's free training resources but here is the million-dollar question.

Why risk saving a few bucks now then, end up paying huge fines later when your company fails to prove compliance with the Illinois laws?