insight magazine

Capitol Report | Winter 2019

#MeToo and You as a CPA

Are you compliant with new legal requirements for sexual harassment prevention training?
Marty Green, Esq. Senior VP and Legislative Counsel, Illinois CPA Society

You’ve undoubtedly heard about the #MeToo movement and its repercussions throughout the business world. But you probably didn’t think the outing of high-profile compulsive sexual harassers across the nation would ever hit home for you. It will now.

The Illinois General Assembly passed legislation during the spring legislative session that impacts not just you as a CPA but every employee and employer in the state of Illinois. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed into law two operative pieces of legislation—House Bill 4953 and Senate Bill 75—requiring holders of professional licenses, like CPAs, and Illinois employers and employees to complete sexual harassment prevention training.

Approved training courses, at a minimum, will detail forms of sexual harassment, what should be done if someone experiences or witnesses unwelcome sexual contact, how to report sexual harassment within a place of employment and to outside entities, and the types of protections in place for whistleblowers. I’ve heard from many firms and companies that this is a burden to comply with, but this should be viewed as an opportunity to further strengthen the integrity of our profession.

First, HB 4953 (Public Act 100-762) relates to professional license continuing education requirements and sexual harassment prevention training. The bill amends Department of Professional Regulation Law by adding section 15.5, which requires professions with continuing education requirements to include at least one hour of sexual harassment prevention training for new applicants and licensees renewing or restoring his or her license on or after Jan. 1, 2020.

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) adopted Administrative Rules (68 Ill. Adm. Code 1130.400) in May 2019 to implement the requirements of HB 4953. What this means for you as a licensed CPA is that you must now complete one hour of sexual harassment prevention training as part of the 120 hours of continuing education required for maintaining your CPA license. Be aware this one hour of specialized training cannot be counted toward the four hours of ethics training. Conversely, registered CPAs do not have a continuing education requirement and are not required to complete sexual harassment prevention training for renewing their registered status.

Most importantly, the sexual harassment prevention training must be provided by an IDFPR-approved continuing education provider, such as the Illinois CPA Society, or providers that are approved by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). The training also must be presented in a classroom, webinar, or online setting and must fulfill all other requirements of continuing education as outlined in sections 1420.70 and 1420.72 of the Illinois Public Accounting Act Administrative Rules.

Next, SB 75, or the Workplace Transparency Act (Public Act 101-221), enacts sweeping changes across Illinois’ employment law landscape. This far-reaching legislation imposes inter alia reporting, training, and contracting requirements that will impact your respective firm as an Illinois employer as well as your respective clients.

The Act “encourages employers to adopt and actively implement policies to ensure their workplaces are safe for employees to report concerns about sexual harassment without fear of retaliation, loss of status, or loss of promotional opportunities.”

What this means is that all Illinois employers must provide mandatory sexual harassment prevention training to all Illinois employees annually beginning in 2020. The legislation requires the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) to produce a model training program and make it available to employers online at no cost.

Many CPA firms are closely looking at HB 4953 and SB 75 to identify training opportunities that fulfill the requirements of both of their respective public acts. Let me caution you that if you want to satisfy the requirements of both with in-house training, your firm would need to be a licensed Illinois CPE provider or a NASBA CPE provider.

In addition to employee training requirements, the Workplace Transparency Act establishes employer disclosure and reporting requirements. Beginning July 1, 2020—and every July thereafter— Illinois employers must report adverse judgments and/or administrative rulings to the IDHR, including equitable relief ordered against the employer, the number of adverse judgments for sexual harassment or discrimination, and the number of settlements entered within the last five years.

The Act also allows the IDHR to share substantiated findings of civil rights violations by professional licensees with the IDFPR, which could lead to professional license suspensions, revocations, or refusals to renew.

The Illinois CPA Society’s Government Relations team negotiated with the respective legislative caucuses on this massive legislation, particularly in the use of pre-employment and employment agreements for arbitration. This is an area of extensive federal preemption. Section 1-25 limits the use of pre-employment and employment arbitration agreements for resolution of workplace discrimination and sexual harassment. Employment agreements that include arbitration clauses to resolve unlawful employment practices require arbitration clauses to be negotiated and require the employer to provide consideration to the employee or future employee in exchange for such an agreement. In these cases, employers should have the employee sign a written acknowledgement that they knowingly negotiated the arbitration agreement and that they are agreeing to arbitrate unlawful employment claims in exchange for consideration.

Finally, the Act prohibits employers from restricting employees from testifying before an administrative agency or legislative or judicial proceeding when subpoenaed or ordered by the court to appear.

While the Illinois CPA Society will continue to be an advocate for the CPA profession, the Illinois General Assembly has and will continue to change Illinois’ employment landscape. It’s best for you to become familiar with these new professional licensure requirements and employer mandates that are guaranteed to impact you as a CPA and every employer and employee across our state.

Author’s Note: This column includes my personal observations of the evolution of the legislative environment and are not necessarily the views of the Illinois CPA Society.

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