Illinois law states that individuals have the right to work without enduring sexual harassment, yet it occurs in companies of all sizes. Too often, these incidents are not reported for various reasons. Organizations are encouraged to design and implement a comprehensive internal policy to address this important issue and potential source of legal problems. Employees need to recognize what sexual harassment is, how to respond and report a problem, and the potential consequences for violations.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Employees are protected from sexual harassment by the Illinois Human Rights Act. It is defined as any unwanted, sexually-oriented advances, conduct, or requests for favors that are
- Either stated or implied to be a condition associated with the victim's employment
- Capable of having consequences related to the individual's employment
- Potentially able to hinder an employee's performance or create an environment that may be deemed intimidating or offensive
Keys to a Strong Policy
Make a Strong Statement
Sexual harassment can potentially impact a victim's work and personal life. Employers that fail to formally address the issue among their basic company policies may unknowingly be minimizing the importance of the problem and making it appear as an issue that is relatively minor or insignificant. The policy should be drafted by stating that this conduct will not be tolerated in a strong, clear, and concise manner.
Clarify & Define the Behavior
A policy should present the issue in a manner that is understandable and may be a component of a broader harassment policy that addresses conduct relating to gender, race, religion, age, and other protected classes. Some of the primary examples of sexual harassment to include are:
- Exchanging sexual favors for raises, promotions, or other special benefits
- Physical contact of a sexual nature including massages or unwanted touching
- Sharing or posting pictures or footage of a sexual nature
- Sexually-oriented suggestions, humor, or flirting
- Inquiries regarding an individual's personal relationships or sexual orientation
Procedures for Reporting
A procedure should be outlined explaining the process of reporting harassment. There should be at least two points of contact for reporting, such as someone from the management team and another in the human resources department. This is critical to avoid potential situations where an employee's direct supervisor may be the harasser. Some organizations contract with a third-party organization that receives and manages the process.
Addressing Confidentiality & Retaliation
Victims must be assured that reporting and the subsequent investigation will be confidential and not lead to retaliation. The process should be conducted in a way that allows for thorough investigation while maintaining a reasonable level of confidentiality. Information regarding the harassment claim is not to be shared with other parties that are not involved.
Outlining the Investigative Process & Obtaining Written Acknowledgement
The policy should give employees an understanding of the expectations once a claim is investigated. The policy should explain that all claims will be addressed quickly, taken seriously, and may have consequences for violators. Employees should understand that the penalties may include suspension or termination. After the policy is completed, all employees should be presented with a copy for review and asked to sign a written acknowledgment that they understand the provisions.
A successfully implemented policy will result in employees having a clear understanding of sexual harassment. The policy should be a part of all new employee training processes and perhaps be included in ongoing training activities or meetings that discuss changes in employee benefits. Properly educating those who function in a supervisory or management role is critical, as often they are in the best position to recognize unreported harassment.
Illinois Lawyers That Defend Victims of Sexual Harassment
Employees have the right to work in an environment that is free from sexual harassment. If you feel that you have been a victim of harassment that has had an adverse impact on your work and/or personal life, you may benefit from consulting with an attorney. At Benassi & Benassi, P.C., we have many years of experience working on behalf of clients in cases involving workplace harassment, discrimination, and many other aspects of employment law. Contact us today for a consultation at (309) 674-3556.