By Gillian B. Lepore, Vy’Shaey M. Mitchell, and Sara Eber Fowler

Seyfarth Synopsis: Chicago’s amendments to its Human Rights Ordinance expanding the definition of sexual harassment and implementing new policy and training requirements go into effect on July 1, 2022. Employers should ensure that they are updating their policies and training plans accordingly.

The City of Chicago recently passed amendments to its Human Rights Ordinance to “uphold zero tolerance of violence and harassment in the workplace” and adding additional significant protections for employees subjected to sexual harassment.  The amendments modify (and expand) the definitions of “sexual harassment” and “sexual orientation” in the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance, create new written policy and training requirements for all employers in the city, and impose increased penalties for violations of the ordinance. The policy, notice, and training requirements go into effect on July 1, 2022.

Sexual Harassment Includes Sexual Misconduct

The definition of “sexual harassment” in the Ordinance has been amended to explicitly include a definition for sexual misconduct.  Sexual harassment is now defined as any:

(i) unwelcome sexual advances or unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature; or

(ii) requests for sexual favors or 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.”

The inclusion of “sexual misconduct” broadens the definition of sexual harassment typically seen in employment policies and the EEOC’s definition.

In addition, the ordinance modifies the definition of sexual orientation, which is now defined as “a person’s actual or perceived sexual and emotional attraction, or lack thereof, to another person.”

These amended definitions became effective June 4, 2022.

Policy Requirements

Effective July 1, 2022, all employers within the City of Chicago are required to have a written policy prohibiting sexual harassment.  The written policy must include, at a minimum:

  • A statement that sexual harassment is illegal in Chicago.
  • The updated definition of sexual harassment.
  • A requirement that all employees participate in sexual harassment prevention training annually.
  • Examples of prohibited conduct that constitute sexual harassment.
  • Details on 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 a manager, employer’s corporate headquarters or human resources department, or other internal reporting mechanism; and legal services, including governmental, 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. Additionally, employers will be required to display a poster advising of the prohibition on sexual harassment where employees can see it.  The City has stated it will post model sexual harassment policies in English, Spanish, Polish, Chinese, Arabic and Hindi, as well as a poster containing the requirements, to its website prior to the time the amendment takes place on July 1, 2022.

Training Requirements

Effective July 1, 2022, all Chicago employers must provide annual sexual harassment training to employees.  Training must include: 1 hour of sexual harassment prevention for all employees (2 hours for supervisors/managers) and 1 hour of bystander training for all employees.  The City has stated that the State’s sexual harassment training template, which provides one hour of training, will be sufficient to comply with the required hour of sexual harassment prevention training for employees.  Employers must conduct the first round of required training between July 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023 and annually thereafter.

Statute of Limitations an Penalty Changes for All Forms of Discrimination

The ordinance additionally amends other areas of the municipal code, impacting all claims of discrimination by employees.  Complainants will now have 365 days, instead of 300, to report all forms of discrimination, including sexual harassment, to the Chicago Commission on Human Relations.

Further, penalties for all forms of discrimination will be increased from $500-$1,000 per violation to $5,000-$10,000 per violation.  These changes became effective June 4, 2022.

Document Retention Requirements and Penalties

Employers must retain written records of the written policies, trainings provided, and all other records necessary to show compliance with the ordinance for at least five years or the duration of any claim, civil action or investigation pending pursuant to the Ordinance, whichever is longer. Failure to maintain the required records creates a rebuttable presumption that the employer violated the sexual harassment requirements of the Ordinance.

Violations of the written policy, notice, or recordkeeping requirements will result in fines ranging between $500 and $1,000 per day per offense.

Differences Between Chicago and Illinois Requirements

Employers in Illinois have been required to provide annual sexual harassment prevention training to employees since 2020.  However, Chicago’s amended Ordinance has several requirements that will not be satisfied by compliance with Illinois’ requirements.

  • Under Illinois’s Human Rights Act, only restaurants and bars are required to have written policies on sexual harassment prevention, whereas Chicago’s Ordinance requires such a policy for all
  • As detailed above, Illinois’ required training will satisfy a portion of Chicago’s required trainings. But, Chicago’s training requirements are more robust in both length and content than the state requirements.
  • The IHRA does not have any notice or recordkeeping requirements, while the City Ordinance requires both – with steep penalties for noncompliance.

What Steps Should Employers Take?

  • Review and revise company sexual harassment policies for compliance with the ordinances’ requirements before July 1, 2022.
  • Plan and prepare to provide the required training to employees between July 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023.

We will continue to monitor and provide updates on any developments as the Ordinance’s effective date approaches. With the mandatory sexual harassment policy and training landscape continuing to rapidly expand, we encourage companies to reach out to the authors, a member of the Workplace Counseling Team or their Seyfarth contact for solutions and recommendations for addressing compliance with applicable requirements.