Employers need to understand the basics of state and federal laws protecting against such conduct, and what to do when these claims are raised. They also need to understand that employees have a legal right to raise these concerns.
When faced with an employee claim, employers need to immediately assure the complaining employee that the conduct complained of is taken very seriously, and conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of the complaint. Once a conclusion is reached, the employer should take appropriate action. Many employers engage outside counsel to conduct an unbiased (and privileged) investigation.
It is also important that the complaining employee be assured there will not be retaliation for raising a compliant, and all aspects of the investigation be kept confidential.
The following are the basic principles of employee discrimination and harassment laws.
The Illinois Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment based on specific “protected classes” including race, color, religion, sex (including sexual harassment), national origin, ancestry, age (40 and over), order of protection status, marital status, sexual orientation (including gender-related identity), physical or mental disability, and military status or unfavorable discharge from military service. The act also prohibits discrimination because of pregnancy, citizenship status and arrest record.
Federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) applies to employers with 15 or more employees. It prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, and religion or retaliating against an employee for complaining against discrimination, filing a charge of discrimination, or assisting in a discrimination investigation.
Other relevant federal laws include: the Americans with Disabilities Act (prohibiting discrimination based on disability); the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (discrimination based on age); and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (prohibiting the use of genetic information by employers and health insurers).
Employees are protected from discrimination in all terms and conditions of employment, such as: hiring, firing, layoff, harassment, selection, promotion, demotion, performance evaluation, transfer, pay, tenure, discipline, terms and conditions of employment (working hours, vacation, and sick leave, etc.), seniority, and union representation.
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, and by the Illinois Human Rights Act.
Sexual harassment in employment includes any unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or any conduct of a sexual nature when: