In June 2018, Connecticut joined the growing number of states creating new and amending existing laws on sexual harassment training requirements. This trend, which started in tandem with the #MeToo movement, is aimed at increasing awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace and the rights and responsibilities of all employees to ensure a safe environment. The law went into effect October 1, 2019, so employers must ensure their training programs meets provision requirements. Connecticut's new law, increases the scope of previous training provisions in terms of which employees must take the training and which employers must provide it. Employers with three or more employees must now provide training to all employees. Previously, the threshold was 50 or more employees and the training was only required for supervisors. (Note that employers with fewer than three employees still need to provide supervisory training.)
Overview of the Act
Under law, the training must be provided as follows:
- All employers must provide two hours of sexual harassment training to their supervisors by October 1, 2020, or within six months of hire for supervisors who are hired or assume supervisory positions on or after that date.*
- Employers with three or more employees must provide two hours of sexual harassment training to all employees by October 1, 2020, or within six months of hire for employees hired on or after that date.*
*Employers who conducted such training after October 1, 2018 are not required to provide training a second time.
The law also stipulates that supplemental training must be conducted no less than every 10 years to update employees on the content of the training. Furthermore, it instructs the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) to develop and make available online training that fulfills the requirements to assist employers in creating a compliant training program.
Enhanced Notice Requirements
In addition to the extended scope of training obligations, the new law also creates enhanced notice requirements for employers. Previously, employers with three or more employees were required to post a notice, in a prominent location, stating that sexual harassment is illegal and listing the remedies available to victims. The law now states that in addition to the posting requirements, employers must also email a copy of the notice to employees within three months of their hire date if:
- The employer has provided the employee with an email account; or
- The employee has provided the employer with an email address.
It further stipulates that the subject line of the email must include “Sexual Harassment Policy” or something similar. Where an email address isn’t available, covered employers may post a notice on the company’s website should they have one.
CHRO is also required to post on its website a link that provides information that fulfills this requirement so employers can also comply by providing the link to employees via text, email, or written notification.
Failure to comply with the training or notifications requirements under the law may result in a fine up to $1,000. Moreover, failure to comply may be considered a “discriminatory practice,” which could permit the CHRO to file civil action in court .
There are a number of other changes under the new law:
- It extends the time to file a discrimination complaint (including sexual harassment) to within 300 days of the alleged incident occurring on or after October 1, 2019. Previously, the law required complaints to be filed within 180 days.
- It allows courts to order punitive damages in addition to injunctive relief, attorney’s fees, and court costs.
- It extends the time to file a civil lawsuit for victims under age 21 to any time before their 51st birthday. Previousl law only applied to victims under the age of 18, and they were required to file before their 48th birthday.
- It makes changes to the criminal statute of limitations.
Sexual Harassment Under Federal Law
In addition to the changes under Connecticut state law, business owners must be mindful that federal law, enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), also addresses sexual harassment. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, it is “unlawful to harass an applicant or employee because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include ‘sexual harassment’ or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”
Though training isn’t specifically required under federal law, it is encouraged. Where employers fail to take steps to prevent harassment, they can be held liable for its occurrence in the workplace. The EEOC encourages companies to provide sexual harassment training and implement an effective complaint process that offers multiple avenues of reporting inappropriate conduct. Additionally, they emphasize the importance of taking appropriate action when a complaint is received that includes a prompt, fair, and thorough investigation.
Businesses must adhere to both state and federal guidelines. In all cases, the law that provides the most protection to the employee is the one that will be enforced.
Training Is Key to Prevention
State and federal agencies emphasize the importance of training the workforce so employees are aware of what constitutes sexual harassment and know what to do when they encounter it. Building a training program that is tailored to the company’s environment allows learners to relate to and better understand the materials. Better training increases the likelihood that employees will recognize concerning behaviors and report it before it develops into harassment, and that they will report harassment they witness or hear about so it can be addressed.
As Connecticut joins an increasing number of states that are enacting specific sexual harassment training regulations, more states are expected to follow suit. Regardless of where a business resides, sexual harassment training is always a best practice for combating behaviors that can put the company at risk.