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New sexual harassment law takes effect in Illinois

Workers in Illinois had insufficient protections or recourse against sexual harassment in the workplace. But a recently-passed bill strengthened the state's employment law by requiring annual sexual harassment training, restricting arbitration clauses and adding additional protections for consultants and contractors.

The bill was sent to the Governor in June, signed into law and will take effect on January 1, 2020. It will restrict the use of contracts that are intended to prevent workers from reporting harassment, discrimination and retaliation. These include non-disclosure agreements, arbitration requirements and non-disparagement terms.

The new law will also extend protections against legal harassment to contract workers and consultants. Employers are now liable for harassment of nonemployees by their employees who hold nonmanagerial and nonsupervisory positions if the employer becomes aware of this conduct and does not take reasonable corrective steps.

Gender-related violence victims will be permitted to take unpaid leave to seek medical, legal or other assistance. The new law also prohibits unions from representing victims and their alleged harasser in the sexual harassment disciplinary proceedings. Additionally, employers cannot disclose the identity of a sexual harassment or unlawful discrimination victim.

Employer must also conduct sexual harassment training at least once every year. The state's Department of Human Rights is required to have a sexual harassment training program available for employers. A separate program will be required for bars and restaurants.

Hotels and casinos must also comply with special provisions in the law which take effect on July 1, 2020. These adopt a Chicago ordinance that requires providing panic buttons to employees who work in isolated spaces which can be used during harassment or assault.

Workers who suffer harassment or workplace retaliation may be entitled to damages or compensation. An attorney can help them protect their rights.

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