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The year 2020 brings some major changes to Illinois employment laws. The human resource departments of the state’s employers are no doubt aware of the changes, but many employees may not have heard the word quite as loudly. Employees now have new rights in Illinois.

Below is a rough sketch of the Workplace Transparency Act (WTA), only one of the major pieces of legislation that employers and employees alike should watch for in the coming year and beyond.

Contracts banning disclosure and disparagement

The WTA includes major changes to the ways employers can stop employees from talking about their experience with the employer. Employees have often had to sign confidentiality agreements when they join, leave or renew their contract, or when they sign a settlement to resolve a lawsuit

These non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements are now valid only if they meet a long list of stringent requirements. Now, for example, the employee must get a 21-day chance to have an attorney look at the agreement and, once signed, they have seven days to bail out of the agreement.

The agreement must benefit the employee in addition to the company and must include a valid “consideration” or compensation of some kind. Signing it must be voluntary, negotiated and it must be the preference of the employee, who must understand the agreement.

Employers cannot force human rights complaints into arbitration

Employees must often sign agreements that make them settle conflicts with employers through arbitration instead of the courts, often giving employers the upper hand.

Now, and Illinois employer must make it clear that contracts requiring arbitration do not apply to harassment and discrimination complaints.

Banning discrimination for perceived differences

The act revises the state’s Human Rights Act to ban workplace discrimination and harassment for a potentially much wider variety of characteristics.

Previously, employers might have read the Human Rights Act as protecting people against discrimination and harassment based on, for example, race and gender, which may (arguably) be actual and objective characteristics. Now, the prohibitions explicitly apply to perceived characteristics as well.

Whether a worker is gay, for example, is not necessarily the issue. It could instead be whether the discriminating person or company perceived the worker as gay.

New reporting and harassment training requirements

Several other provisions round out the wide-ranging WTA. They include a requirement for annual reporting to the state’s human rights department.

The WTA also requires that employers must provide employees with annual sexual harassment training. The training must meet certain requirements and can come either from the company itself or from another provider of training services.