In the wake of sexual harassment allegations in the news, the Illinois legislature enacted P.A. 100-554, which amended the State Officials and Employee Ethics Act (the “Ethics Act”) to include provisions relating to sexual harassment. Although the amendment to the Ethics Act requires State agencies to implement sexual harassment policy, training and penalty requirements for State employees, the provision applicable to local governments (including school districts) requires only establishment of a policy to prohibit sexual harassment. The compliance date for establishing a policy meeting the new Ethics Act requirements is January 15, 2018.
School boards are already required by federal law to maintain and disseminate sexual harassment policies; however, the Ethics Act provisions in P.A. 100-554 contain a broad definition of sexual harassment and specific details that may not be itemized in current policy. Like the pre-existing definition of sexual harassment under state and federal law, the definition of sexual harassment in the Ethics Act includes, in part, any conduct of a sexual nature that has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. The Ethics Act definition, however, provides expressly that the phrase “working environment” is not limited to a physical location an employee is assigned to perform his or her duties and does not require an employment relationship.
The Ethics Act requires that local government policies include, at a minimum:
- A prohibition on sexual harassment.
- Details on how an individual can report an allegation of sexual harassment, including options for making a confidential report to a supervisor, ethics officer, Inspector General, or the Department of Human Rights, as applicable.
- A prohibition on retaliation for reporting sexual harassment allegations, including availability of whistleblower protections under the Ethics Act, the Whistleblower Act, and the Illinois Human Rights Act.
- The consequences of a violation of the prohibition on sexual harassment and the consequences for knowingly making a false report.
In addition to amending the Ethics Act, P.A. 100-554 also amended the Illinois Human Rights Act to mandate that the Illinois Department of Human Rights establish a hotline for reporting sexual harassment allegations.
School boards should review their existing sexual harassment policies to ensure compliance with the new requirements. For school boards that subscribe to the IASB PRESS policy service, it is expected that updates to Policy 2:260, Uniform Grievance Procedure, and Policy 5:20, Workplace Harassment Prohibited, will be included in the forthcoming January/February 2018 PRESS update.