A first-in-the nation municipal requirement for Chicago companies to provide separate “bystander” sexual harassment training may set a new standard for other municipalities seeking to improve their rules to combat the misconduct, according to an attorney who specializes in employment law.
The Chicago Commission on Human Rights has begun enforcing a new ordinance that every Chicago employee must receive a dedicated hour of bystander sexual harassment training annually. Employers have until June 30, 2023, to begin providing it.
In training guidance, the commission defined bystander intervention as “safe and positive actions that may be carried out by a person or a group of people to prevent harm or intervene where there is a risk or perceived risk of sexual harassment to another.”
A bystander can be anyone in the workplace who notices incidents where another person may seem uncomfortable or where the employee may determine that an observed action is inappropriate.
New York City in 2019 enacted requirements for sexual harassment prevention training for all employees, including bystander training as a component. Chicago’s ordinance is different because it is “the first jurisdiction requiring a separate component—a full hour of bystander training—for all covered employees,” Epstein Becker & Green PC attorney Nancy Popper said in an interview.
Popper said she’ll be interested to see if other jurisdictions adopt something similar.
The new ordinance also requires additional training for supervisors, broadens the legal definition of sexual harassment, and generally expands on the statewide Workplace Transparency Act that took effect Jan. 1, 2020, which placed some requirements on Illinois employers to combat sexual harassment in the workplace. Under the new ordinance, daily fines for violations range from $5,000 to $10,000, up from $500 to $1,000.
The commission said bystander training should include:
- Employees recognizing situations of potential sexual harassment,
- Understanding institutional structures and cultural conditions that facilitate sexual harassment,
- Overcoming barriers to intervening,
- Identifying safe and effective intervention options, and
- Taking action to intervene.
Law firms are increasingly being hired to conduct sexual harassment prevention training, which provides some firms with a “consistent” flow of business, Husch Blackwell LLP partner Anne Mayette said in an interview.
Popper agreed. “I have seen an uptick in requests from clients that are seeking live, interactive training for their employees,” she said, particularly as people return to offices after working from home because of the Covid-19 pandemic.