When state Sen. Sue Rezin began serving in the Illinois General Assembly nine years ago, she saw a culture at the Illinois Capitol that fostered sexual harassment — “pervasive behavior” that when reported wasn’t taken seriously, she said.
But under legislation state lawmakers approved this spring, state officials, employees and lobbyists all would be required to go through annual sexual harassment training. The plan, which was a direct response to the #MeToo movement, also would extend protections against harassment and discrimination protections to public- and private-sector workplaces across the state.
“Hopefully, it will change not only the behavior in Springfield, but across the state in the workplace,” said Rezin, a Morris Republican. “If I heard of someone being harassed, I would bring it to the attention of superiors. The complaint seemed to go no further. Now, at least, the individual can file a complaint in a confidential manner and an independent inspector general will investigate their claim. That’s so important.”
The legislation is part of lawmakers’ ongoing response to the #MeToo movement, including allegations of sexual harassment and intimidation within Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan’s political and government organizations. The sweeping new legislation cleared both chambers of the General Assembly without opposition.
Rezin was among the dozens of lawmakers from both parties who signed on as sponsors of the bill, which would become law with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature.
Passed in the final days of the spring session, the measure sets out regulations for the private sector as well. Illinois employers would be required to provide sexual harassment training and could not require workers to sign non-disclosure or arbitration agreements related to harassment or discrimination.
One goal was to make sure employers are not allowed to force employees into accepting contracts that would make them vulnerable to workplace sexual harassment and discrimination, said state Sen. Melinda Bush, a Grayslake Democrat and a bill sponsor. The protections also would extend to consultants and contractors.
Bush called the bill “a really big piece of civil rights legislation.”
“This is allowing women and anyone who is harassed to stand in their own space,” Bush said. “You don’t have to accept it, and there are ways, if you are being harassed, that you can address it. You don’t have to be silent about it anymore.”
In the private sector, the bill trains a focus on tipped employees in the bar and restaurant industry, and requires hotels and casinos to equip certain employees with notification devices where they can alert security or a manager if they are being harassed, or if they need to summon help.
Also, Illinois bars and restaurants would be required to have a sexual harassment policy that includes details on how to report allegations internally and how to file a charge with the state Department of Human Rights.
The bill would require the state to create a harassment training program available to employers for free online, and a free supplemental training would have to be available specifically for the restaurant and bar industry and tipped employees.
“The nature of their relationship (with customers) required additional training — what’s harassment and what’s not. When you’re working for tips, where’s the line?” said Rep. Ann Williams, a Chicago Democrat who co-sponsored the bill. “Customers should not be able to cross a line just because that’s how (workers) are being paid.”
Beginning July 1, 2020, employers also would be required to report to the state any adverse rulings or judgments against them for harassment or discrimination. Employers who don’t report their cases to the state, or don’t train their employees could be fined, under the measure.
Jay Shattuck, executive director of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce’s Employment Law Council, said the group was neutral but wondered about how employers would find out about the requirements. “Particularly with smaller employers, we want to make sure the word is getting out to them that they have to start this training for their employees,” Shattuck said.
Employers who don’t follow the law would face varying penalties based on their size. Employers with fewer than four employees would be hit with a fine of up to $500 for the first infraction, up to $1,000 for the second and up to $3,000 for offenses after that. Employers with more than four employees would face fines of up to $1,000 for the first offense, $3,000 for the second and up to $5,000 for individual offenses after that.
Victims rights advocate Denise Rotheimer took issue with a provision in the bill she said can still be used to cause victims harm.
Under the plan, people who make complaints would be subject to a $5,000 administrative fine if they don’t keep confidential a summary report following an investigation into their allegation until it’s published by the Executive Ethics Commission, Rotheimer said, calling it “abusive.”
Rotheimer previously filed a complaint alleging she was harassed by then-state Sen. Ira Silverstein, a Chicago Democrat, while she worked on a bill with him. Rotheimer said her complaint wasn’t addressed for months, at a time when the inspector general position had been vacant.
Following an investigation, the former Illinois legislative inspector general concluded that Silverstein’s behavior was “unbecoming of a legislator,” but cleared him of the sexual harassment allegations. He later lost a 2018 primary race in his bid for reelection.
“The way that it’s written it can be used in a retaliatory way. There should be no fine for anyone whose complaint has been investigated, where there’s been a finding,” Rotheimer said.
Nevertheless, Williams, one of the co-sponsors, said the legislation will send a message.
“There’s been a microscope looking at the Capitol with some of the allegations that have been bantered about in the past few years, and some that have not been in the public eye,” Williams said. “The message to employees is we won’t tolerate discrimination of any kind, we won’t tolerate harassment of any kind.”
via “Illinois Politics” – Google News http://bit.ly/2Sc9ojT
June 7, 2019 at 07:32PM