Responding in part to the #MeToo movement, state and local governments have begun expanding protections for those alleging discrimination and harassment in the workplace.  Last month, the Illinois General Assembly passed a series of amendments to the Illinois Human Rights Act (“the IHRA”) that may have a significant impact on employers if they are signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner.

  • House Bill 4572: Currently, the IHRA applies to employers who employ 15 or more employees within Illinois for at least 20 weeks per year.  HB 4572 would essentially cover all Illinois employers—any employer who employs one or more employee for at least 20 weeks per year.
  • Senate Bill 20: SB 20 makes several changes to the procedures of the Illinois Department of Human Rights (“IDHR”) and the Human Rights Commission (“the Commission”). Among other things, SB 20 would:
    • Extend the charge-filing period from 180 days after an incident giving rise to a claim to 300 days after the incident;
    • Require the IDHR to notify all parties that the complainant may “opt out” of participating in the IDHR process within 60 days and commence a lawsuit in state court;
    • Change the make-up of the Commission from 13 part-time Commissioners to 7 full-time Commissioners, all of whom must either be licensed to practice law in Illinois or have relevant professional experience;
    • Create a temporary panel of 3 Commissioners to handle the backlog of requests for review; and
    • Require the publication of Commission decisions within 180 days.

In addition to these bills awaiting the governor’s signature, a proposed amendment to Senate Bill 577, now pending before a senate committee, would make changes to the IHRA and the Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act  (VESSA). Among other things, the proposed amendment would:

  • Expand the definition of “employee” in the IHRA to include independent contractors, vendors, consultants, and any “other person providing services pursuant to a contract,” expanding the class of individuals who can file a charge of discrimination or harassment;
  • Extend the protections of VESSA to include claims of sexual harassment made by employees. Currently, under VESSA, any employee who is the victim of domestic or sexual violence is entitled to up to 12 weeks unpaid leave from work.
  • Prohibit any employer from including a non-disclosure provision in any settlement agreements related to claims of sexual harassment. Such a provision could only be included at the employee’s request.

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP has a team of knowledgeable lawyers and other professionals prepared to help employers assess their obligations. We will continue to monitor these important bills and provide additional updates to employers. If you or your organization would like more information on the Illinois Human Rights Act, please contact an attorney in the Employment and Labor practice group.