On June 2, 2019, both houses of the Illinois legislature passed Senate Bill 75, the Workplace Transparency Act (“WTA”), and Governor Pritzker is expected to sign the bill into law shortly.
The WTA amends the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”), expanding protections for Illinois workers against discrimination and harassment by:
Extending the IHRA to prohibit discrimination and harassment against “nonemployees” in the workplace (e.g. contract workers and consultants);
Clarifying that the “work environment” is not limited to the physical location an employee is assigned to work, expanding coverage to incidents that occur outside the office; and
Prohibiting discrimination and harassment on the basis of “perceived” membership in a protected class (previously, only “perceived” sexual orientations were expressly covered).
These changes aren’t a dramatic overhaul of the IHRA, but they certainly appear to address incidents of workplace discrimination and harassment that would have previously slipped through the cracks.
In particular, the protection for “perceived” membership in a protected class seems likely to eliminate potential injustices under the IHRA. Once the WTA becomes effective, an employer that engages in discrimination or harassment against a worker can no longer win simply because they can show they were mistaken as to the demographics of the worker they mistreated (for example, an employer will no longer be able to get away with harassing an employee for being a Muslim because it turned out the employee was actually Sikh, instead). This would also make it so that employees could prevail on disability discrimination claims even if their condition didn’t fully meet the technical definition of “disability” under the law.
In addition to the expansions to the IHRA discussed above, the WTA institutes a number of other pro-employee provisions, including new restrictions on arbitration agreements as a condition of employment, new limitations on confidentiality and non-disparagement provisions associated with harassment or discrimination settlements, new requirements for employers to provide employees with annual sexual harassment prevention training, and new disclosure requirements for employers seeking to contract with the state of Illinois.
If Governor Pritzker signs the WTA, it will largely go into effect on January 1, 2020.