Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Sexual Harassment Training Deadline of 12/31/20 is Looming

Remember when the "Fifty Shades" book series came out in 2015? Remember the memes like this one pictured? Would that book or this meme be appropriate in the workplace today?

No!

Why, because it would be considered discussion around the topic of sex or sexual nature and can possibly substantially interfere with an individuals work performance or create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.  

This is just one example of a topic discussed in the State of Illinois Sexual Harassment Prevention Training now required by all employers with one (1) or more employees.  The fine for not training is $500 for employers with 1-3 employees and $1000 for employers with four or more employees.  With tomorrow being the first day of Q4 we have three months left to get into compliance yet some are still kicking and screaming that this is required!

With the IL Workplace Transparency Act training deadline at the end of this last quarter of 2020 employers are asking for an easy way out.  Some of the out’s I have seen are employers registering their employees and allowing them to leave or pop in and out of the training for a few minutes but not enough to absorb the information or earn the certificate of completion that is required for employer documentation purposes.  Others are asking if they can hand the slide deck out and let the employees read it and sign off on their own certificate of completion.  Reading is not the same thing as training.  The last thing I hear regularly is that business owners are not employees and therefore not required to take the training.  While that has yet to be clarified by lawmakers, it would be very important for them to take the training to understand what their responsibilities are as the employee’s supervisors.  More importantly, the law specifically outlines that employers are required to report and provide an independent review of allegations of sexual harassment made against the employer. Business owners would surely want to prevent being personally named by being in the know of what is contained in this training.

Remember, this is both a federal and state liability that every employer is responsible to both prevent and handle should it occur in your workplace.  Honestly, the best easy way out is to just do the training.  If the $500 or $1000 fine for not training employees in the workplace is not enough to incentivize employers, the risk of a minimum average $75-$125k claim settled out of court should be.  Ultimately, it is just the right thing to do to let your employees know you care about their well-being and safety which leads to retention and minimizes recruiting costs.  It is an investment in a positive and healthy workplace culture. The reason there is a fine range depends on number of employees.  Businesses with one to three employees will be charge $500 fine for not training their employees.  Those business who do not train employees and have four or more employees (no top end limit) can receive a $1000 fine.

In a February blog post I covered the details of the requirements.  However, that was prior to the late April release of the sample presentation which is available 24/7 on the IDHR site.  Many had hoped there would be an easier way of handling both the training and documentation than was released.  As we all know, the pandemic hit just before that release and the state had more critical things to be worried about.  The main point is to train your employees by year end then annually thereafter.  If new employees are hired in between the annual training, they must be trained within 90 days of their hire date.

My advice is to maintain an overall roster of who was trained to use as an audit document against your payroll list.  That way you can schedule a small group or one-on-one training for anyone who missed the annual training.  According to the FAQ IDHR site: “Employers are required to keep a record of all trainings. Such records must be made available for IDHR inspection upon request. This record may be a certificate or a signed employee acknowledgement or course sign-in worksheet.  The records may be paper or electronic.”  The slide deck developed by IDHR contains a sample certificate of completion on the very last page.  That can be the “certificate” mentioned above. 

Keep in mind a sexual harassment hotline has been set up for employees in Illinois since 2018 and has been widely publicized.  If an employee learns of this training requirement they can anonymously report the employer for non-compliance. 

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