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New Chicago Law Requires “Bystander” Training in Sexual Harrassment Policies for Chicago Employers

In April of 2022, Mayor Lightfoot and the Commission on Human Rights amended the City’s sexual harassment laws to make them stronger and to uphold zero tolerance of violence and harassment in the workplace. The Chicago Commission on Human Rights has begun enforcing this new ordinance which requires, among other things, that every Chicago employee must receive a dedicated hour of bystander sexual harassment training annually. While New York City had enacted requirements for sexual harassment prevention training, which included bystander training, Chicago’s law differs in that it requires a full, separate hour of bystander training for covered employees. As such, Chicago is the first jurisdiction to require this type of training on its own. Employers have until June 30, 2023, to begin providing this training.

Changes To The Law

The first change to note in the City’s April update to its sexual harassment laws is a change to the definition of sexual harassment to explicitly include sexual misconduct:

“Sexual harassment” means any (i) unwelcome sexual advances or unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, (ii) requests for sexual favors of conduct of a sexual nature when (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment; or (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for any employment decision affecting the individual; or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment; or (iii) sexual misconduct which means any behavior of a sexual nature which also involves coercion, abuse of authority, or misuse of an individual’s employment position.

As of July 1, 2022, all employers in the city of Chicago must have a written policy on sexual harassment. The written policy document must include at minimum the following:

  • A statement that sexual harassment is illegal in Chicago
  • The above definition of sexual harassment as defined in Section 6-010-020
  • A requirement that all employees participate in sexual harassment prevention training annually
    • All employees must participate in a minimum of one hour of sexual harassment prevention training and one separate hour of bystander training annually
    • Anyone who supervises or manages employees must participate in a minimum of two hours of sexual harassment prevention training annually
  • Examples of prohibited conduct that constitutes sexual harassment
  • Details on: (1) how an individual can report an allegation of sexual harassment, including, as appropriate, instructions on how to make a confidential report, with an internal complaint form, to (i) a manager; (ii) an employer’s corporate headquarters; or (iii) the human resources department or other internal reporting mechanism and (2) legal services, including governmental services, available to employees who may be victims of sexual harassment
  • A statement that retaliation for reporting sexual harassment is illegal in Chicago

The written policy must be available in the employee’s primary language within the first calendar week of starting employment and employers are also required to display a poster advising of the prohibition on sexual harassment where employees can see it. Employers must maintain written records of their policies and training for 5 years.

The new law also increased the statute of limitations in sexual harassment cases by 65 days. Victims now have 365 days, as opposed to 300, to report all forms of discrimination, including sexual harassment. While extending the statute of limitations in cases involving sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination, the law also increased the penalty from the previous $500-$1,000 per violation to $5,000-$10,000 per violation. This means an employer that does not increase its sexual harassment prevention training in accordance with the new law could face fines of up to $10,000 per day.

What Is Bystander Intervention?

A bystander is someone who observes some incident but chooses not to get involved. The new one-hour mandate of bystander training is intended to combat the “bystander effect” which occurs when the presence of others discourages intervening in an emergency situation, against a person, bully, or during an assault or other crime. The reasoning behind this mandate is that during an incident of sexual harassment, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is for any one of them to provide help to a person in distress.

Bystander intervention involves safe and positive actions that may be carried out by a person, or a group of people, to prevent harm or intervene where there is a risk or perceived risk of sexual harassment to another. Bystander intervention includes (1) recognizing situations of potential sexual harassment; (2) understanding institutional structures and cultural conditions that facilitate sexual harassment; (3) overcoming barriers to intervening, identifying safe and effective intervention options; and (4) taking action to intervene.

What This Means For Chicago Employers

While Chicago employers will have until June 30, 2023, to implement its new bystander training, the increase in penalties went into effect on June 4, 2022, and as of July 1, 2022, Chicago employers are required to maintain a written policy on sexual harassment in accordance with the above provisions. As such, employers are encouraged to take action now to ensure they are in compliance with the new law.

If you have any questions regarding the new law or wish to inquire on outsourcing bystander training for your company, please contact Gaetano Urgo at (312) 995-7128.