In October 2017, Illinois was swept up in the wave of national headlines regarding the #MeToo movement when more than 200 people signed a #MeToo letter asserting they have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment within Illinois state government. As a result, Illinois became one of the first states to fast track legislation that requires: every lawmaker, state employer, and registered lobbyists to undergo annual sexual harassment training; each governmental entity to adopt a prohibition on sexual harassment, including a policy for reporting allegations and disciplinary actions for any violations; and the creation of separate House and Senate task forces designed to specifically develop recommendations for further legislative action.
The Illinois General Assembly continues to push change and eliminate the culture of sexual harassment. In addition to an internal overhaul of how the Illinois General Assembly handles sexual harassment complaints, several bills to address sexual harassment and assault are heading to Governor Rauner’s desk for approval. Below is an overview of pending Illinois measures aimed at addressing concerns from the #MeToo movement.
Publishing Severance Agreements: House Bill 4242 would require local governments and school districts to disclose severance agreements with employees accused of sexual harassment and/or sexual discrimination. Within 72 hours, such entities would be required to publish: (1) the name of the person receiving the payment; (2) the amount of the payment; and (3) the fact that the person receiving the payment has been accused of sexual harassment and/or sexual discrimination.
No Taxpayer Dollars Used in Sexual Harassment Payouts: House Bill 4243 would prohibit public funds from being used to create a payout of money to any person involved with allegations and investigation of sexual harassment.
Restructuring the Human Rights Commission: Senate Bill 20 would enact changes to the structure of the Illinois Human Rights Commission in order to expedite the process of addressing sexual harassment claims. Such changes would include changing the membership of the Human Rights Commission from thirteen part-time commissioners to seven full-time commissioners, and implementing a temporary three-person panel to address the backlog of complaints.
Requiring Sexual Harassment Policies: Senate Bill 405 would require all companies that submit bids for a contract with the State of Illinois to enact a sexual harassment policy. Additionally, in order to qualify for credits under the Economic Development for a Growing Economy Tax Credit Act, an applicant’s project must meet certain requirements, including providing a sexual harassment policy report.
Although these measures have not yet been enacted, they represent a shift in the legislature’s priorities to address sexual harassment. Employers should keep an eye out for updates based on action by Governor Rauner, or for additional proposals from the House and Senate Task Forces to address these issues.