By Marc J. Lane
Illinois has joined a growing list of states that have enacted laws to combat sexual harassment in the workplace. Effective January 1st, the Workplace Transparency Act will prohibit the use of nondisclosure or non-disparagement agreements that prevent employees, contractors and consultants from making truthful statements or disclosures about alleged employment practices or criminal conduct.
Employment agreements will only be permitted to include nondisclosure, non-disparagement or arbitration clauses if they acknowledge the employee's right to report good-faith allegations of unlawful employment practices or criminal conduct to law enforcement agencies, to participate in law enforcement proceedings and to receive confidential legal advice. Moreover, separation and settlement agreements will only be permitted to include a confidentiality or non-disparagement clause if any claims the employee releases will have accrued before the agreement is inked and only then if the clause benefits both the employer and the employee. The employee will be given 21 days to review the agreement before it must be signed and seven days after it's signed to revoke it.
State Senator Melinda Bush, a member of the Senate Task Force on Sexual Discrimination and Harassment Awareness and Prevention, made a compelling case for the state's sweeping new protections for employees, contractors and consultants: the Act is "not just good for workers; it's good for business . . . We're not changing the law. . . We are working to change our culture, preventing abuse and discrimination from happening in the first place while empowering victims to come forward when it does."
But compliance won't be left to the good intentions of employers. Starting next July, they'll be obliged to file annual reports with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) . Those reports must disclose the number of sexual harassment or unlawful discrimination settlements entered into during the previous year, including any settlements relating to conduct outside the workplace. The same goes for any adverse judgments or administrative rulings against the employer. Although the names of victims are not to be disclosed and employer reports won't be subject to Freedom of Information requests, they can form the basis of IDHR investigations.
Perhaps most important, starting next year the Act will require all Illinois employers to provide annual training to their employees to prevent sexual harassment. At a minimum, that training must include the definition of sexual harassment; examples of unlawful workplace conduct that may constitute sexual harassment; confirmation of the employer's responsibility to prevent, investigate and address sexual harassment; and a summary of relevant federal and state laws dealing with sexual harassment, including available remedies for violations of law.
Training is key to preventing abuses in the workforce. Not only will it invite employers to examine their culture and demonstrate a deep commitment to their values; it should also foster open communication and trust between employer and employee that will inure to the benefit of both.
Illinois employers would be well-served to prepare without delay for the Workplace Transparency Act's imminent and dramatic impact on the workplace. We stand ready to help them meet their new legal obligations to their employees, contractors and consultants not only in adopting compliant sexual harassment and discrimination policies, but also in developing and facilitating sexual harassment training sessions tailored to the workplace.
But the Act presents an opportunity for companies to go beyond the legal minimums -- to create more welcoming and inclusive work environments, to engage employees and to demonstrate leadership. We encourage Illinois employers to seize that opportunity and we enthusiastically support those who do.
Marc J. Lane is a Chicago attorney and financial adviser and the vice chair of the Cook County Commission on Social Innovation.
The world's first social impact bond, or SIB, was introduced in 2010 to fund innovative social programs that realistically might reduce recidivism by ex-offenders in Peterborough, England, and, with it, the public costs of housing and feeding repeat offenders. Prudently building on the strengths of that initiative, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is rolling out SIBs to help solve some of the state's most vexing social problems.
A SIB isn't a traditional bond where investors are guaranteed a fixed return but a contract among a government agency that agrees to pay for improved social outcomes, a private financing intermediary and private investors. SIBs shift the risk of experimenting with promising but untested intervention strategies from government to private capital markets, with public funds expended only after targeted social benefits have been achieved.
Peterborough's problem was daunting: Sixty percent of prisoners serving short-term sentences historically had gone on to re-offend within a year after their release. But policymakers were confident that a solution was within their reach. They attracted private investment to pay experienced social service agencies to provide intensive, multidisciplinary support to short-term prisoners, preparing them to re-enter society and succeed outside the penal system.
The government decided which goals would be supported, but exactly how those goals would be achieved was left to the private sector. It was the investors, through a bond-issuing organization, who ultimately endorsed the allocation of investment proceeds — how much would be invested in job training, drug rehabilitation and other interventions.
If the Peterborough plan eventually shrinks recidivism rates by 7.5 percent or more, the government will repay the investors' capital and share the taxpayers' savings with them, delivering up to a 13 percent return. If the target isn't hit, the investment will have failed and the government will owe the investors nothing.
Illinois' SIB effort was spearheaded by the state's Task Force on Social Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Enterprise — the governor's think tank on social issues, which I am privileged to chair — with support from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Aurora-based Dunham Fund. A request for information issued by the Office of Management and Budget on May 13 yielded responses from service providers eager not only to reduce recidivism here but also to create jobs, revitalize communities, improve public health outcomes, curb youth violence, cut high school dropout rates and alleviate poverty.
Now the governor has issued a request for proposals intended to spur better outcomes for Illinois' most at-risk youth — by increasing placement stability and reducing re-arrests for youth in the state's Department of Children and Family Services, and by improving educational achievement and living-wage employment opportunities justice-involved youth most likely to re-offend upon returning to their communities.
Kudos to Mr. Quinn for bringing SIBs to Illinois. May they soon start delivering on their promise.- See more at: http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20131007/OPINION/131009850/a-new-kind-of-futures-contract-for-illinois#sthash.ThgxeiFt.dpuf
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