Connecticut recently made several noteworthy changes to its sexual harassment laws designed to help eliminate harassment, prevent retaliation against claimants and expand protection when claims are made.
Prior to the enactment of the new law, Connecticut employers were required to post in the workplace information regarding sexual harassment and available remedies. Under the new law, employers must now also transmit notices to employees about the illegality of sexual harassment and available remedies. In certain circumstances the notice may be provided electronically. If electronic transmittal to employees is not possible, however, the notice may have to be posted on the employer’s website.
The new law has also significantly expanded an employer’s obligation to provide harassment prevention training. All employers with three or more employees must conduct two hours of sexual harassment training by October 1, 2020. With respect to employees hired after October 1, 2019, harassment prevention training must be completed within six months of their date of hire. The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (“CHRO”) is expected to create resources to facilitate employer compliance.
Those who complain of sexual harassment now have additional protection under Connecticut’s new law. Under the new law, an employer may not respond to a complaint of sexual harassment by making changes to the terms and conditions of the complainant’s employment absent the complainant’s written consent to such change(s). In theory, this will limit the instances in which an employee can claim retaliation. This should also remove some of the angst that employees experience when weighing whether to report sexual harassment and may encourage employees to report instances of sexual harassment where previously they might have otherwise been hesitant to do so.
The new law provides Connecticut employees with 300 days from the date harassment occurs to file a charge with the CHRO, instead of 180 days under previous law. In addition, there are two other dramatic changes to Connecticut’s harassment prevention laws: (1) a prevailing plaintiff can recover punitive damages, and (2) a prevailing plaintiff can also recover an award of reasonable counsel fees that are not tied into the amount of damages awarded. This means that attorneys can recover fees that are far greater than the amount of the damages recovered by a prevailing plaintiff.
The changes to the law in Connecticut, as well as changes in states such as New York and California, underscore the need for employers across the country to move expeditiously to conduct wellness checks on existing policies, protocols, and training. Done right, employers can significantly reduce the risk of litigation while dramatically improving corporate culture, morale and perception.