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What Constitutes Harassment in Illinois?

Harassment & Discrimination

What Constitutes Harassment in Illinois?

Sexual harassment is not a new issue. However, the awareness and community racket grew considerably in recent years, partly due #MeToo movement. Governments of many states, including Illinois, adjusted their laws and regulations to tackle the problem.

In the State of Illinois, educating employees on sexual harassment is not only important but mandatory. Management and ownership also need to be trained and able to spot potential problems and know how to effectively prevent them from escalating into sexual abuse or lawsuits.

Below, you'll discover the types of sexual harassment, harassing behaviors, employer's responsibilities in preventing and resolving it. Together, we'll look at examples and case studies of what constitutes harassment in Illinois and the new Illinois harassment laws intended to prevent harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

To get your company compliant in an easy and cost-effective way, try EasyLlama's Illinois Sexual Harassment Training. Your team will enjoy the simplicity, convenience, and efficacy of the training while your budget needs will be met.

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What is Considered Harassment in Illinois

Illinois criminal law describes Harassment as "intentional acts which can cause someone to be worried, anxious, or uncomfortable." Such actions may include making an obscene or indecent comment or request with the intent to offend, threaten, or annoy someone. Any threats to a person or property fall under a statute of harassment.

Harassment may occur face-to-face as well as via the phone or the internet. It can even be non-verbal. For example, calling a person repeatedly even without talking to them is considered harassment. Whistling or making smooching sounds is another form of harassment.

Workplace harassment comes in many forms. Traits that may form the basis of workplace harassment include:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Physical or mental disability
  • Hereditary data
  • Age
  • Pregnancy
  • National origin
  • Sexuality

What Actions Are Considered Harassment?

Harassment is any unwanted communication or action that violates a person's privacy, body, or feelings and makes that person feel uncomfortable, threatened, fearful, disrespected, insulted, insecure, startled, intimidated, offended, or objectified.

Harassment may include a range of verbal (written or spoken) or physical behavior, including:

  • Offensive jokes
  • Demeaning remarks
  • Name-calling, offensive nicknames, or slurs
  • Bullying
  • Physical assaults
  • Threats
  • Intimidation
  • Display of offensive images, videos, or objects

Harassment is not always forthright. Sometimes a person can make a joke, and their co-worker, for example, can take it wrong and get offended. If the situation repeats and creates interference with the victim's ability to do their work and negatively impacts their well-being, the perpetrator's behavior is considered harassment. Bringing attention to the incident and addressing it on the spot may prevent further development. That is why your team members need to know exactly what to say and do to stop harassment in its tracks.

Examples Of Sexual Harassment In IL

One of the prevailing forms of harassment is sexual harassment. The Illinois Human Rights Act defines sexual harassment as requests for sexual favors, unwelcome sexual advances, or a form of blackmail, where an individual's employment or career advancement is dependent on their submission to a perpetrator's sexual requests. Sexual harassment also includes situations, when unwanted sexual conduct leads to creating a hostile, intimidating, or offensive work environment.

Here are examples of behaviors that constitute sexual harassment in Illinois:

  • Making offensive comments about someone's sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Making sexual comments about appearance
  • Inappropriate touching, leaning over, massaging shoulders, or purposefully brushing up against another person
  • Asking sexual questions about preferences, history, or fantasies
  • Sexual teasing, jokes, or remarks
  • Displaying inappropriate sexual images or videos
  • Pressure to go out on a date or for sexual favors
  • Sexual looks or gestures or whistling at someone
  • Sending letters, telephone calls, e-mails, texts, or other materials of a sexual nature
  • Referring to another as a "babe," "honey," or "tootsie", etc.
  • Kissing sounds, howling and smacking lips
  • Turning work discussions to sexual topics
  • Spreading rumors or telling lies about a person's sex life
  • Indecent exposure
  • Actual or attempted rape or sexual assault

Sexual harassment can be perpetrated in person or via letters, texts, notes, emails, or online channels of communication, including Social Media. Yes, harassmeent has gone digital and Illlinois' cyber harassment law has that covered.

Consent is what differentiates sexual harassment from lawful sexual behavior. Unwelcome sexual behavior may easily arise when consent lines are blurred. Often unclear communication causes misunderstandings which further results in sexual harassment cases.

Real Life-Scenarios Of Harassment

For example, two co-workers, let's call them Henry and Ellen, often chat in the kitchen while getting coffee or water. Henry invites Ellen for drinks after work. She declines because she is not interested in him. Henry is attracted to Ellen, so he tries a few more times. She refuses politely but does not explain her position clearly. Soon Henry starts bringing her little gifts, like a teddy bear or her favorite chocolate. This makes her uncomfortable, but she is shy to firmly shut down his advances. Ellen tries to avoid him, and Henry tries harder. In this case, Ellen feels sexually harassed while Henry is sincerely trying to win over her interest.

To avoid miscommunication and prevent potential harassment, employees need to know how to set clear boundaries and communicate their consent or lack thereof. It is very important to train all managers, supervisors, senior leaders, and governing board members regarding their responsibilities for preventing and responding to workplace harassment.

Sexual harassment in the workplace may occur outside of the physical location where an employee is assigned. The working environment of an employee extends to other worksites including mobile or moving locations. If a life insurance agent has a business lunch with a potential client, their meeting place becomes a "working environment." If a caterer delivers food, their "workplace" extends to the delivery location.

An employer is responsible for preventing, investigating, and correcting incidents of sexual harassment regardless of whether they occur in the business premises or off-site. Managers and supervisors should lead by example through modeling appropriate conduct. They should also monitor their work environment to ensure safety and respectful boundaries between their team members. It's worth noting that if members of management are involved in sexual harassment, the employer is held liable regardless of whether they knew of the harassment.

Sexual harassment may involve non-employees but still occur in the workplace. Unwelcome sexual conduct can occur between an employee and a non-employee who is directly performing services for an employer, such as a contractor, consultant, delivery person, or a gig worker. The Illinois Human Rights Act protects both employees and nonemployees from sexual harassment. Employers may be held liable for the harassment cases perpetrated by employees or non-employees if the employer knew or reasonably should have known of the harassment but failed to take prompt corrective action.

Types of Sexual Harassment

The States' law recognizes two types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environment in Illinois.

  1. Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

In Latin, "Quid Pro Quo" means "this for that". This is a give and takes scenario where a supervisor may suggest to a subordinate that in order to get promoted, receive a raise, a lucrative contract, a job benefit -- or to avoid a negative scenario, for example, getting fired -- the subordinate must complete sexual favors or submit to unwelcome sexual advances.

Examples of benefits supervisors may offer in a quid pro quo harassment:

  • Preferred work shifts or assignments
  • Employment
  • Favorable performance reviews
  • Desired transfers
  • Promotions
  • Raises

Potential scenarios:

  1. Rachel's manager flirts with her and makes his interest in her very clear. She politely declines his advances. He offers her a promotion if she'll agree to go out with him because he is "just sure they'll click."
  2. Brian goes to a job interview. The interviewer starts asking him personal questions which are not related to the job and make him uncomfortable. She comes from behind her desk and sits on the edge of the desk and stretches her legs in a seductive manner. Then she bends to touch his knee and says in a sexually suggestive way "I think you deserve this opportunity. If I give you this job, maybe we could work some after-hours together."

Examples of negative work consequences supervisors might threaten (or execute) in a quid pro quo sexual harassment:

  • Undesirable or unmanageable work schedule
  • Demotion
  • Withholding benefits or otherwise penalizing
  • Poor employee evaluation scores
  • Termination
  • Unfavorable transfers

A potential scenario:

  1. Megan is a new curly-haired receptionist on a trial period awaiting permanent employment. Her boss takes a liking in her and requests sexual favors in exchange for her keeping the job. When she refuses, he fires her.
  2. Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment

A hostile work environment occurs when an uncomfortable or even unfriendly atmosphere is created in the workplace thereby impacting an individual's work and well-being.

Unlike in Quid Pro Quo sexual harassment, the harasser doesn't have to offer employee benefits in exchange for sexual favors. Instead, it involves repeated and undesired sexual comments, advances, or other activity that creates a hostile, intimidating, threatening, or offensive work environment and prevents the employee from doing their job.

As an example, imagine a boutique software firm with 9 employees. All of them are male except for an office administrator Elizabeth, who is an attractive young woman. She receives a lot of attention from her colleagues and from her boss, but it often makes her uncomfortable. Her colleagues gather in the kitchen and tell sexually based jokes while sometimes glancing at Elizabeth with smirks or winks. Often, she becomes an object of their jokes. Her emotional equilibrium is constantly shaken, and her work performance is negatively impacted, as the result. Such an environment would be considered hostile and fall into a category of sexual harassment.

The perpetrators of this type of harassment aren't always managers or supervisors. Any co-worker or a third party such as consultants, suppliers, contractors, couriers, and even customers can be involved in sexual harassment.

Illinois Workplace Harassment Laws

On January 1, 2020, a new Public Act 101-0221 (commonly referred to as the Workplace Transparency Act) went into effect. The new Illinois workplace harassment law aims at preventing sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. It creates the Workplace Transparency Act (WTA), the Sexual Harassment Victim Representation Act, and the Casino Employee Safety Act and amends the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) and the Victims' Economic Security and Safety Act (VESSA).

Under this law, Illinois employers are required to provide sexual harassment prevention training to their employees on an annual basis, regardless of the size of the company. Restaurants and bars are required to establish and disseminate a written policy on sexual harassment prevention training and provide "supplemental" sexual harassment prevention training.

The Act provides minimum standards that must be included in the training, which are:

  • An explanation of sexual harassment
  • Examples of conduct that constitutes unlawful sexual harassment
  • A summary of relevant state and federal laws prohibiting sexual harassment and the remedies for violations of these laws
  • A summary of the employer's responsibility to prevent, investigate, and correct sexual harassment.

The Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) created a model training program and made it available online at no cost to employers. Employers should strongly consider supplementing that content with additional training as part of a comprehensive initiative to create a respectful and safe working environment. Employers may develop their own sexual harassment prevention training program that equals or exceeds the minimum standards as outlined in Section 2-109(B) and/or Section 2-110(C) of IHRA or hire a professional training company.

To provide comprehensive user-friendly training and get your businesses compliant quickly and easily, check out EasyLlama's Illinois Sexual Harassment Training_.

The WTA law prohibits employers from interfering with employees reporting unlawful discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. The law addresses many aspects of unlawful employment practices including limiting non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses, limiting arbitration agreements, mandating sexual harassment training, expanding protection to non-employees (which includes contractors, subcontractors, vendors, and consultants), and requiring annual disclosures. Employers who do not comply with the training and reporting requirements may be subject to fines.

Here's To Stopping Harassment

Harassment is a complex moral and legal issue, which in many cases can be prevented. If you have ever seen a victim of harassment and heard their story, you may feel personally responsible to do everything in your power to prevent harassment from happening to anyone ever again. Federal and State laws laid a foundation for keeping workers safe in the workplace including laying out the sexual harassment training reuquirements in Illinois. Now it's every employer's responsibility to implement training and practices which promote amicable communication between all team members and create a friendly work environment. Employees should take advantage of the support and legislation available for their protection and learn about their rights and proper conduct. It's a civil responsibility of each one of us to monitor our environments and interfere and report immediately if we witness or experience harassment.

Take the next step in combating harassment in your business. To get your company compliant and provide the best training for your team, try a free demo of EasyLlama's Training. EasyLlama's customers enjoy the simplicity, efficacy, and flexible delivery of the training along with favorable pricing.

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