Despite the advances made by the “me too” movement, sexual harassment continues in the workplace today almost as bad as it did 20 years ago. That is the bad news. The good news is that most employers now take it seriously when employees report sexual harassment. Today, it is much more likely that a supervisor or manager will get fired when employees speak out about workplace harassment. Gone are the days when such claims would be swept under the rug. In Illinois, there is more good news for employees. Recently enacted laws expand employer liability for harassment to even small employers that are exempt from liability under federal law. Illinois employers can also be held liable for harassment to independent contractors. However, many women, and sometimes men as well, are afraid to speak up and sometimes quit their jobs without making a complaint to human resources. Sometimes employees are made to feel that they are the problem, or they fear being judged. It can also just be embarrassing to discuss such matters with an attorney. When abusers go unpunished, the abuser only becomes more bold and entitled. Not reporting harassment, and not bringing your complaint to the EEOC or Illinois Department of Human Rights, allows the abuse to continue. If you have been a victim of sexual harassment, the statute of limitations is generally only 300 days. Do not delay speaking to a lawyer. It is best to speak to a lawyer to protect your rights and to protect you from retaliation. By taking action against workplace abusers, you protect other employees who will be harassed by this same abuser. If you have been a victim of sexual harassment, do not hesitate to call.
Sexual harassment continues to be as much a problem in the workplace in 2021 as it did 30 years ago. In 25 years of representing employees in all types of employment discrimination and harassment cases, I have not seen any significant improvement in the treatment of women in the workplace. Despite everything that has happened with the “Me too” movement, women are still afraid of retaliation for reporting sexual harassment. They have no confidence that human resources will do the right thing, particularly when the harasser is a member of senior management. Sexual harassment occurs in every type of work environment from blue collar workers to executive offices. I have even represented women who were sexually harassed in the one place you would think that all employees would feel safe—a police department.
Recently, Illinois passed laws provide employees, particularly victims of sexual harassment, with increased protection. Sexual harassment training is now mandatory for all Illinois employers, regardless of the size of the company. Many small employers, particularly those that do not employ a human resource professional, can be among the worst offenders because they lack accountability. Often, these small employers do not carry insurance for such claims and are surprised to learn not only will they by held liable for damages to the abused employee, but they can be required to pay the attorney fees for the employer in addition to their own attorneys’ fees. While some Title VII laws exempt employers with less than 15 employees, the Illinois Human Rights Act applies to all employers, regardless of the number of employees. Employees victimized by an employers with less than 15 employees can file a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR), which has offices in Chicago and Springfield. Currently, charges can be filed remotely with the help of an investigator. You do not need to have a lawyer to file a charge but it would be in your best interest to speak to a lawyer first. After the IDHR completes its investigation, you will have the option to have your case heard in front of an Administrative Judge with the Illinois Human Rights Commission or you can file a complaint in Circuit Court. You definitely will want an experienced lawyer on your side when you get to this stage.
Too often, I am not contacted until after the employee has quit their job because they simply could not take the harassment any longer. I am often shocked at how long some women have put up with harassment before they quit. With all employment law claims, there are statutes of limitation. Many people, however, are surprised to learn that the statute of limitations for many employment claims is only 300 days from the date that harassment or discrimination took place. If you wait too long to file a claim, your right to hold the employer liable can be forever lost. If you are being harassed in the workplace, don’t wait to speak to a lawyer. Call today. The harassment will not stop until you take the first step of reporting it. But don’t go it alone. Call today for a free consultation and know your rights.