So you are working at your office in downtown Chicago and the co-worker keeps viewing pornography on his computer. You ask him to stop viewing this material at work and he just laughs it off. What can you do? Under the law in Illinois if a co-worker is doing something discriminatory, you must report it to management before any liability attaches to the company. This is a much different standard from what takes place if the supervisor or member of management is engaging in sexual harassment. And make no mistake about it, this conduct is sexual harassment in Illinois.
The good thing about reporting this type of conduct is the company can check computer logs and files on the computer server to determine which websites the employee was visiting. So this means there won’t be any dispute about what was taking place. Or will there be? The problem is many companies don’t want to be bothered by this activity and they may try to put the matter to rest without taking any action. In other cases the company may actually take negative actions against the employee complaining about the conduct. If this happens to you, it is called retaliation and it is a violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act (“Act”). Under the Act, the company can’t take any negative job action against any employee who is complaining about sexual harassment or other forms of discrimination. It is amazing how often companies don’t take complaints seriously and instead blame the complaining employee. Don’t be the victim of workplace harassment if this happens to you.
Any seasoned employment lawyer can help you with your case if this is happening to you. The most important thing to remember is the law protects you as an employee. You have rights that can’t be taken away by the employer. You are entitled to a workplace free from harassment and free from intimidation. No one has a right to interfere with you at work in this way. Don’t let human resources buffalo you or try to direct you in the wrong direction. Human resources is in place to help the company not you. And the company has legal advice and procedures in place to help the company–not you. Keep all of this in mind as you navigate the issue at work.
What can you expect if you decide to file a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (“IDHR“) regarding this type of conduct? The IDHR is mandated by law to conduct a very thorough investigation within one-year. This includes contacting the company and interviewing witnesses. The IDHR will also request records from the company and get copies of all policies in place. Once the IDHR gets all of this information, the investigator will contact you through your attorney to set up a client interview. After the interview the IDHR will schedule a fact-finding conference with you, your lawyer and the company and their representatives. This process is very important and you should not try to navigate it alone. The company will have someone there representing their interests and you should as well.
The next step is for the investigator to complete the investigation and draft a report finding either substantial evidence or lack thereof. This will determine what options are left for you as far as venues to file your case for trial. WIth substantial evidence you can file at the Illinois Human Rights Commission (“IHRC“) or the local circuit court. With lack of substantial evidence you can only file at the local circuit court. For a more comprehensive look at what takes place, contact an employment lawyer. In any case, protect your rights and don’t allow your company to push you around.