Connecticut has been a state at the forefront of sexual harassment prevention since 1992 with the passing of the Human Rights and Opportunity Act. This law, among other things, required sexual harassment training for Connecticut employers’ supervisors for those employers / companies with 50 employees or more.
As sexual harassment awareness the national spotlight with the #MeToo movement momentum in 2017, states began creating or updating legislation for sexual harassment training. In June 2019, Connecticut became one of these states, and enacted Public Acts 19-16 and 19-93; combined they are known as the Time’s Up Act.
Some areas of Connecticut Law that were updated by the Time’s Up Act, which went into effect October 1, 2019, included expanding the sexual harassment legislation and requires many more employers to offer sexual harassment training to employees across the board, not just supervisory employees. Workplaces have new Sexual Harassment Law poster / posting requirements and are expected to distribute information regarding illegal sexual harassment, facing larger fines if it is found that they did not. Overall, the legislation gives employees much more protection including significant changes to the allowable time-to-file claims and how companies can change employee terms and conditions.
Before we dive deeper into this legislation, it is important to understand…
What is Sexual Harassment in Connecticut?
Under Connecticut law, sexual harassment means “any unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or any conduct of a sexual nature” when:
- Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment,
- Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or
- Such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.
The employee described above under the Time’s Up Act means any individual employed by the employer, including one employed by the individual’s parent, spouse, or child. Previously, the definition of employee did not include any individual employed by their parents, spouse or child, or in the domestic service of any person.
Employers Required to Comply with the Time’s Up Act
The Time’s Up Act greatly expanded which companies require training as well as who in the company must be trained. Previous Connecticut law training requirements applied to businesses with 50 or more employees and training was only required to be provided to employees in supervisory positions.
Now, under the Time’s Up Act, companies with three or more employees must provide sexual harassment training to their supervisors and employees. These companies or “covered employers” that the legislation applies to, are companies with three or more employees that have employees who work in Connecticut, even if the company headquarters are located out of state.
Employees Required to Take Sexual Harassment Training
The Time’s Up Act requires covered employers to provide periodic training updates to all covered employees no fewer than every 10 years.
- Employees with a date-of-hire before October 1, 2019 - must receive sexual harassment training by October 1, 2020 January 1, 2021, except when the employer previously provided similar training.
- Employees hired after October 1, 2019 - must receive sexual harassment training within six months of their date of hire, except when the employer receives an extension from the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO).
**Note: Due to COVID-19 and the resulting pandemic, on June 29, 2020 the Executive Order 7DDD delayed the required Sexual Harassment Prevention Training deadline from October 1, 2020 to January 1, 2021, giving employers more time to get employees trained.
Connecticut Sexual Harassment Training Requirement Extension: On April 8, 2020, the CHRO stated it may provide employers a 90-day extension on the six-month sexual harassment training requirement, if the employer contacts the CHRO and details how COVID-19 prevented them from providing training to all of their employees.
Connecticut Sexual Harassment Training Requirements
Under the Time’s Up Act, the sexual harassment training: must be a least two hours, include information relating to the federal and state statutory provisions regarding sexual harassment and remedies available to victims of sexual harassment. Training must be free to the employee. The training must be interactive and may be done by video.
It is important for all employees throughout an organization to at least understand the basics of sexual harassment and that it can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to:
- The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
- The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
- The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
- Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
- The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome.
Cost of Non-Compliance: Failure to provide training will be considered a “discriminatory practice” and a fine up to $1,000 may be imposed.
Connecticut Sexual Harassment Posting Requirements
Posting requirements provided by the Time’s Up Act dictate covered employers must post in a “prominent and accessible location” and provide to the employee within three months of the employee’s date-of-hire, information about the “illegality of sexual harassment and the remedies available to victims of sexual harassment.” The employer may provide this information by:
- Email to an employer provided email account or the employee’s personal email. The subject line of the email must include the words “Sexual Harassment Policy” or equivalent language;
- Post the information to the employer’s internet website, if one is maintained;
- Send link to the CHRO’s website concerning the illegality of sexual harassment and the remedies available to victims of sexual harassment.
Cost of Non-Compliance: Failure to satisfy the posting requirements may subject the employer to fines up to $1,000 and the CHRO may assign a designated representative to enter the employer’s place of business to ensure posting-requirement compliance.
Reporting Connecticut Sexual Harassment Complaints
Under the Times Up Act, employees who believe they have been subjected to sexual harassment, on or after October 1, 2019, have 300 days from the date of the alleged sexual discrimination to file a complaint with the CHRO. This is a significant change to the law as it increases the reporting window by 120 days. Prior to this legislation, under Connecticut law, employees only had 180 days to file a sexual harassment claim against their employer.
A complaint may be filed by a phone call, letter, or visit to any CHRO office. Then an intake officer conducts an interview and takes the complainant’s sworn statement. Within 60 days from the date the answer is received, the Commission must conduct a case assessment review of the complaint.
The complaint is served to the employer charged with discrimination, who must respond under oath within 30 days. Within 60 days from the date the answer is received, the Commission must conduct a case assessment review. The purpose of the review is to determine whether the complaint
- fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted;
- is frivolous on its face;
- names a respondent that is exempt from coverage; or
- that the complaint and documents received indicate no reasonable possibility that further investigation will result in a finding of reasonable cause. If any of these determinations are made, the complaint will be dismissed.
The case assessment review is based upon a number of factors including the complaint, the respondent’s answer and responses to the Commission’s requests for information, and the complainant’s comments to the respondent’s answer and information responses, provided that the comments are received by the Commission within 15 days of the complainant’s receipt of the respondent’s answer.
If the case is dismissed after a case assessment review, the complainant will be issued a Release of Jurisdiction. The complainant will then be able to bring a civil action in court if they so wish.
Changes in Civil and Criminal Statute of Limitations for Connecticut Sexual Harassment
Under the Time’s Up Act, the statute of limitations has changed across the board:
- Minors (17 and below): There is now no statute of limitations regarding childhood sexual abuse, assault, or exploitation.
- People Aged 18-20: anyone victimized in this age range have until they turn 51 years old to file a civil lawsuit.
- Adults (21 and up): for those who are 21 years old and over the statue is increased to 20 years for felonies and 10 years for misdemeanors
Corrective Action for Connecticut Sexual Harassment
Under the Time’s Up Act, the employer may not modify a complainant’s conditions of employment unless the modification is agreed to in writing, by both parties. This requirement seeks to lessen retaliation claims, which occur when the employer subjects the complainant to an adverse employment action because a complaint was filed against the employer. However, this requirement may also interfere with the employer’s attempt to resolve the sexual harassment issue.
In a situation where the employee refuses to sign a modification, the CHRO may find that the employer’s corrective actions were reasonable and not detrimental to the complainant based on evidence presented to the CHRO by the employer and the complainant.
Cost of Non-Compliance: When an employer is found to have had a discriminatory employment practice, the prevailing plaintiffs may be awarded reasonable attorneys’ fees and punitive damages where the employer’s conduct is extraordinarily offensive.
While the Time’s Up Act has been in effect for close to a year, it is crunch time now with trainings required to be completed by October 1, 2020, making it your last chance to become fully compliant now. Understand your status by making a checklist and/or flowchart based on the parameters in the Time’s Up Act to set forth the roadmap for your compliance review. From there, begin the process of checking off whether you have complied. If an organization is not currently compliant, address any deficiencies. Here is some guidance on how to do that:
Next Steps to Consider Compliance with the Time’s Up Act
- Develop a training program to determine which employees need training.
- Train new and existing employees by purchasing a training platform or using a free Connecticut sexual harassment training source.
- File an extension if you were unable to train employees due to COVID-19.
- Track employee training dates after completion to ensure compliance.
- Determine how your organization will distribute information regarding the illegality of sexual harassment and new training program.
- Develop a standard operating procedure for reacting to potential complaints.
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