Illinois Sexual Harassment Information
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Illinois Sexual Harassment
Q: Can my employer fire or demote me because I reported sexual harassment?
A: Employers who are involved in sexual harassment lawsuits often retaliate against employees who file sexual harassment claims. In some cases, employees may be fired for reporting sexual harassment, or they may be demoted, denied promotions, or penalized in other ways. In Illinois, this form of retaliation is illegal, and federal laws are also designed to protect against retaliatory discharge and other forms of discrimination. If you have been fired or passed over for a promotion as a result of filing a sexual harassment claim, or if you have been forced to quit your job because of a hostile work environment, you may be able to hold your employer liable for the harm you have suffered because of these illegal actions.
Q: Does sexual harassment only consist of harassment of women by men?
A: No. Sexual harassment can be done by either men or women against people of the opposite sex or the same sex. According to the Illinois Human Rights Act, sexual harassment is defined as “unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or any conduct of a sexual nature.” These actions are illegal if they are a condition of employment, if employment-related decisions are made based on whether a person submitted to or rejected sexual requests, or if a person's actions created a hostile work environment that interfered with a person's work performance.
Q: Is asking a co-worker for a date sexual harassment?
A: In Illinois, it is not against the law to ask a co-worker out on a date. However, if the answer is “No,” and you repeatedly ask the same person to go out with you, under the given circumstances, you could be charged for sexual harassment or for creating a hostile work environment.
Q: I was in a relationship with a co-worker, but we are no longer together. Can I still report sexual harassment by that person?
A: Yes. No matter what kind of relationship you had with someone in the past, sexual harassment includes any unwanted sexual advances. Even if you had given consent to certain behavior in the past, you can revoke consent at any time and ask for the behavior to stop. If your co-worker continues to harass you, you have every right to file a claim with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You can also file a personal lawsuit with the help of an employment attorney.
Q: Are comments on my physical appearance or the clothing I wear considered to be sexual harassment?
A: If a co-worker or supervisor compliments you on your outfit, this does not necessarily constitute sexual harassment. For example, if someone at your job says to you “I like your outfit” or “That's a really nice shirt you're wearing”, this usually will not be considered sexual harassment. However, if the compliment is followed by a remark about your physical attributes or includes references to your private parts, then yes, the compliment could easily be considered a verbal form of sexual harassment. If someone makes comments you believe are inappropriate or engages in other behavior that makes you uncomfortable, such as staring at parts of your body, you can ask them to stop. If the inappropriate comments or behavior continue, you can bring this to the attention of your employer, who is required to take action to address sexual harassment and prevent a hostile work environment.
Q: I was passed over for a promotion, and I learned that the supervisor's boyfriend was promoted instead. Is this considered employment discrimination or sexual harassment?
A: It is not sexual harassment if you are passed over for a promotion in favor of your supervisor's boyfriend. However, if you were denied a promotion because you refused to sleep with your boss or give sexual favors to your supervisor, then yes, that would be sexual harassment. Just because your supervisor decides to promote their boyfriend or girlfriend instead of you, this usually will not be considered sexual harassment unless you have experienced inappropriate behavior such as unwanted sexual advances.
Q: I found out that my co-worker has been downloading pornography on his computer while at work. Can I report him for sexual harassment?
A: Depending on the situation, this type of action could be a form of sexual harassment. If a fellow employee is showing you pornographic material and/or making explicit comments to other coworkers about pornography, and you are made to feel uncomfortable, this can create a hostile work environment. You can report this behavior to your employer, and they will be required to take steps to ensure that your workplace is free of sexual harassment. You could also be an innocent bystander who witnesses a sexually harassing situation, and you may be able to take legal action against an employer who has failed to prevent a hostile work environment.
Q: My co-worker recently made a joke of a mildly sexual nature. I was not offended, and both of us laughed at the joke. However, we both received notice from our supervisor that we had acted inappropriately and had potentially violated our employer's sexual harassment policies. Is this considered sexual harassment?
A: All companies in Illinois have a responsibility to create a safe working environment for all their employees. If a joke was told with sexual connotations, and someone overhearing it found it to be offensive, it could create a hostile work environment, which is a form of sexual harassment. It is important to refrain from conduct of a sexual nature, including jokes, gestures, or comments, that a coworker has stated they find offensive. If this type of conduct persists after a person has asked for it to stop, it may be considered sexual harassment.
Q: I have been offended by sexual comments made by a customer who regularly comes to my employer's place of business. Can I report this to my employer as sexual harassment?
A: Employers are required to address all forms of sexual harassment, including harassment of employees by customers. If you informed your employer about a customer making sexually offensive remarks, and your employer did nothing to handle the situation, then under Illinois law, this would be considered third-party sexual harassment. Your employer may be liable for harm you have suffered due to the harassment, including emotional trauma.
Q: Can a person face criminal charges for sexual harassment?
A: Sexual harassment can be a criminal offense in Illinois if it involves sexual assault, stalking, harassment via telephone or electronic communications, or any threat of sexual misconduct. If you have been physically violated in conjunction with sexually harassing behavior, or if you have been subject to harassing behavior that has put your safety and well-being at risk, contact an employment attorney immediately.