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Frequently Asked Questions 

Prohibited Discrimination Under Illinois Law

1. In what areas does the Illinois Human Rights Act ("Act") prohibit discrimination?

The Act prohibits discrimination in the areas of employment, real estate (housing) transactions, access to financial credit, and public accommodations. The Act also prohibits retaliation, and sexual harassment in employment and of students in educational institutions.

2. What categories does the Act protect against discrimination?

The Act prohibits discrimination based on specific "protected classes" including race, color, religion, sex (including sexual harassment), national origin, ancestry, age (40 and over), order of protection status, marital status, sexual orientation (including gender-related identity), physical or mental disability, conviction record, and military status or unfavorable discharge from military service. The act also prohibits discrimination because of pregnancy, citizenship status and arrest record in employment, and discrimination based on familial status and arrest record in real estate transactions.

3. What is prohibited discrimination in employment?

The Act protects employees from discrimination in all terms and conditions of employment, such as: hiring, firing, layoff, harassment, selection, promotion, demotion, performance evaluation, transfer, pay, tenure, discipline, terms and conditions of employment (working hours, vacation, and sick leave, etc.), seniority, and union representation. For more information, see Filing a Charge - Employment.


Note that some employment issues are not covered by IDHR. For instance, disputes about overtime pay or collecting unpaid wages, if not related to discrimination, fall under the jurisdiction of the Illinois Department of Labor.

4. What is prohibited discrimination in Real Estate Transactions (Housing)?

The Act prohibits discrimination in the sales or rental of residential or commercial property. A few examples of housing discrimination are: misrepresenting that property is not available for rental or sale; steering to rent or purchase a housing unit in locations other than the customer's preferred area; altering the terms, conditions or privileges of the transaction; refusing to receive or transmit a bona fie offer to rent or purchase; and refusing to negotiate. (For more iniformation, see the Fair Housing Rights section of this FAQ and the Human Rights Act).

5. What is prohibited discrimination in Financial Credit activities?

The Act prohibits financial institutions doing business in Illinois from discriminating by denying or modifying services normally offered; denying or varying loan terms; using lending standards that have no economic basis; and refusing to issue a credit card despite a proper application. For more information, see Filing a Charge - Financial Credit.

6. What is prohibited discrimination in places of Public Accommodation?

The Act prohibits discrimination in the full and equal enjoyment of facilities and services by any place of public accommodation, such as a business, recreation, lodging, entertainment, or transportation facility that is open to the public.  The public accommodations provision of the Act also covers State or local government facilities that are open to the public as well as educational institutions under certain circumstances.  All Illinois residents have rights to equal access to the services provided by public officials (city services, police and fire department services, etc.).  For more information, see Filing a Charge - Public Accommodations.

7. What is Sexual Harassment in Education?

The law prohibits unwelcome advances of a sexual nature or requests for sexual favors of students by an executive, faculty member, administrative staff member, or teaching assistant in an educational institution when such behavior interferes with the student's performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment. For more information, see Filing a Charge - Sexual Harassment in Education.

8. How would I know if I have a case of sexual harassment?

The Act defines sexual harassment in employment or education as any unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or any conduct of a sexual nature when: 


  • Submission to such conduct is either overtly expressed or subtly suggested;
  • Submission or rejection of the conduct is used as a basis for decisions in employment or education-related decisions or activities; or
  • Such conduct interferes with the employee's job performance or student's educational or extracurricular performance; or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or educational environment. (For more information, see the IDHR publication on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace or Sexual Harassment in Education).

9. Is an individual protected from racial harassment under the Act?

Yes, IDHR treats racial harassment as discrimination based on race. If a person is subjected to name-calling or negative comments based on a protected class, this may be unlawful discrimination.

10. How do I know if a problem at work is based on unlawful discrimination?

One way to determine if unlawful discrimination occurred is to compare how people in different protected classes were treated. For example, if a person is fired for an incident but other people who did the same thing or something similar were only given a warning, it may be due to unlawful discrimination if those persons are in a different class. In a failure-to-hire situation, the person who is not hired may file a charge if the person believes that (s)he was rejected from employment because the person was a member of a protected class.

11. If a person's request for a reasonable accommodation is denied, can it be discrimination?

Another type of discrimination involves a failure to provide a reasonable accommodation where the employer or other respondent has a duty to provide it. For example:


  • Disability: For a person with a qualifying vision impairment, a reasonable accommodation might be to provide company notices in large print if that will enable the employee to read the materials.
  • Religion: For a person whose religious practice requires the person to pray at specified times throughout the day, an employer may permit more frequent breaks as a reasonable accommodation.
  • Housing: For a disable person who uses a walker, a reasonable accommodation might be able to provide a designated parking space close to the door of the unit.;

Persons who believe they may have been discriminated against can telephone IDHR or come to IDHR's offices to speak to an Intake Representative about filing a charge. (See the next section of this FAQ, IDHR Charge Filing Process.)

12. What is sexual orientation discrimination?

Sexual orientation is a protected class like the other protected classes listed in the Act. The Act defines sexual orientation as "actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or gender-related identity, whether or not traditionally associated with the person's designated sex at birth. 'Sexual orientation' does not include physical or sexual attraction to a minor by an adult."


Persons who believe they may have been discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation may file a charge with IDHR. It may also be possible to file a charge with the municipality where the discrimination occurred, if the municipality has an ordinance prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination.

13. Where can I find more information about protections related to conviction record?

Senate Bill 1480 adds another layer of protection for anyone that has come into contact with public law enforcement. Any person who believes they are experiencing discrimination at work or with a potential job because of their conviction record can now file a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. 


To assist Illinois employers with compliance and job-seekers, the IDHR has developed a comprehensive FAQ. Click here to read through IDHR's Frequently Asked Questions, or download the complete FAQ document here.

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