When the #Metoo movement swept through the U.S. in 2017, it forced employers across the nation to take a closer look at sexual harassment in workplaces. This wasn’t a new issue, and lots of people had been talking about it for some time—even to the point that many governments and organizations had already put some protections in place to address it. But this was the first big national discussion that took place on the subject, and as this conversation continues to evolve more and more companies hope to eliminate this problem in their workplaces.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website offers this very clear description of sexual harassment:

It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.

Both the victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.

Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a coworker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

In FY 2018, more than 7,500 sexual harassment claims were filed with the EEOC—a jump of nearly 14 percent over the prior year. Due to the recent increase of sexual harassment accusations, many states are now going beyond federal regulations in their efforts to prevent workplace sexual harassment. As an example, Illinois, California, New York / New York City, Connecticut, Delaware, and Maine all passed state laws requiring employers to educate both supervisory and non-supervisory employees about sexual harassment and hostile workforce issues, and many other states are considering similar laws.

Practices and requirements vary from state to state, but one thing is very clear: the tide is turning, and any tolerance of sexual harassment in the workplace is on its way out the door. Organizations should make sure they are following the most up-to-date industry-specific requirements of their state. And even when a company isn’t yet legally required to provide sexual harassment training, it’s still a best practice to do so.

Illinois is the most recent state to pass such laws, and by taking a close look at that state’s legislation and responses to it, companies can get a sense of the kind of legislation and popular sentiment they might soon see in their own localities—and identify some ways to respond to those changes effectively and quickly.

Passed on August 9, 2019, Public Act 101-0221 mandates that effective January 1, 2020, every Illinois employer with more than 15 employees “shall use the model sexual harassment prevention training program created by the Department or establish its own sexual harassment prevention training program that equals or exceeds the minimum standards in subsection (B). The sexual harassment prevention training shall be provided at least once a year to all employees.” Such a program (whether it’s one created by the Illinois Department of Human Rights or one created by an employer) must include the following components, as spelled out in subsection (B) of the new Illinois law:

(1) an explanation of sexual harassment consistent with this Act; (2) examples of conduct that constitutes unlawful sexual harassment; (3) a summary of relevant federal and State statutory provisions concerning sexual harassment, including remedies available to victims of sexual harassment; and (4) a summary of responsibilities of employers in the prevention, investigation, and corrective measures of sexual harassment.

Although this text is drawn specifically from legislation in Illinois, it describes requirements that are shared by many similar laws across the country and likely to be included (in part, at least) in any new legislation on this topic.

Training can take many forms, but most policies require that it be delivered by trainers with certain qualifications (e.g., particular degrees or certifications, a minimum amount of relevant experience) and that it be interactive. In-person training isn’t always feasible or cost-effective (particularly for temporary employees). Fortunately, online training is a viable option for interactive training, especially when it’s delivered by an experienced online training vendor—such as Insight Worldwide—that can ensure that its client’s training content, tracking, and legal HR representation requirements meet state compliance standards.

Insight Worldwide can help your company weather these changing times. We currently offer sexual harassment training specifically designed to meet the requirements in Illinois, as well as training for California and New York. If you’re in one of those three states, contact us today at 888-314-8908 or at info@insightww.com to find out how we can help your organization meet its legal obligations.

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