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Employers Have New Obligations Under State Sexual Harassment Legislation

In new legislation expected to be signed by the Governor shortly, the state is making significant changes to its sexual harassment law.  These changes are a response to the nationwide #metoo and #timesup movements to bring awareness to and combat sexual harassment.

While other technical changes were made, this article focuses on the most important information for employers to know about the new law.  Most changes go into effect October 1, 2019.

Expanded Training Requirements

Connecticut currently requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide two hours of training to their supervisors regarding sexual harassment.  Under the new law, all employers will be required to train supervisors by October 1, 2020.  New supervisors after that date must be trained within six months of becoming a supervisor.   The law expands the training requirement to non-supervisors as well for employers with three or more employees by October 1, 2020 or within six months of hire. The requirement to train non-supervisors is new under this legislation.  Employers must provide a training update for supervisors and non-supervisors every ten years.  The Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (“CHRO”) will develop an online training and education program for employers to use.

New Notice Requirements

Employers are currently required to provide information concerning the illegality of sexual harassment and remedies available to victims of sexual harassment, which is typically done through a labor law posting. Employers with three or more employees will now be required to email, not later than three months after the employee’s start date with the employer, a copy of the information contained in the posting to each employee by email with a subject line that includes the words “Sexual Harassment Policy” or similar words.  This requirement applies if the employee has an email address, whether or not the email address is provided by the employer. If the employer does not provide an email address, the information must be included on the employer’s website if it has one.

Remedying Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

In some situations, employers may try to remedy sexual harassment by transferring the victim of harassment to another location or department.  The legislation provides that employers can only modify the victim’s conditions of employment with written agreement from the victim.

Changes to CHRO and Court Processes and Remedies

The deadline to file any kind of state law employment discrimination or harassment claim is expanded from 180 days to 300 days after the adverse employment action.  This applies to discrimination and harassment claims based on race, religion, national origin, and other protected classes, not just sex.  This change applies to actions occurring on or after October 1, 2019.

The legislation also provides expanded remedies at the CHRO, allowing a hearing officer to award a complainant compensatory damages and reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.  Unemployment and other offsets from damages must be turned over from the employer to the CHRO.  Punitive damages would be available in court.

The #metoo and #timesup movements are ushering in significant changes, and this legislation is likely just the beginning. Employers should follow all requirements in this legislation and implement all industry-appropriate best practices.  A jury in this new era is unlikely to be forgiving of an employer failing to do everything in its power to prevent sexual harassment.

The attorneys in the Labor and Employment Law practice group at Berchem Moses, PC are available to assist you with navigating these changes to the sexual harassment law, as well as any other labor and employment-related matters.