Senate Democrats this week proposed sweeping changes to Connecticut's workplace sexual harassment laws, potentially impacting over 1.3 million private sector workers and tens of thousands of state and local government employees.
While caucus leaders—who called the proposal a priority—chose to stand alone in announcing legislation, it's clear members of the House and Senate from both parties will review workplace harassment statutes this session.
The Senate Democrats' proposal features a series of broad changes to current laws and how they are enforced, including:
- Mandating that businesses with three or more employees provide sexual harassment training to all employees. Current law requires training for supervisors at companies with 50 or more employees.
- Broadening the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities' jurisdiction on sexual harassment training enforcement to companies with three or more employees, instead of the current 50 or more.
- Allowing courts to assess punitive damages in sexual harassment and employment discrimination cases.
- Providing CHRO with greater enforcement powers and more funding.
- Lengthening the time a sexual harassment victim has to report a civil claim from six months to two years following an incident.
- Eliminating the statute of limitations for all felony sexual assault claims.
- Prohibiting non-disclosure agreements in settlements.
- Requiring businesses notify employees annually through email about sexual harassment policies, in addition to posting notices in the workplace.
- Increasing the current $250 penalty for violating statutory notice requirements.
Proposal Follows Earlier Bill
The proposal followed the introduction of a similar measure in the first week of the legislative session from Governor Dannel Malloy.
That bill, HB 5043, expands current state law to require all employees at businesses with 15 or more workers to undergo training while broadening the definition of workplace harassment.
Connecticut employers take their responsibilities for providing safe, harassment-free workplaces seriously and are willing to consider additional ways of protecting employees.
Any changes to current law should balance additional costs and administrative burdens against the return.
Under the Senate Democrats' plan, potential private sector training costs could exceed $130 million.
Those questions, as well as questions on giving expanded power to an at times troublesome CHRO, went largely unanswered.
Currently, costs associated with training supervisors in Connecticut range between $100 and $150 per employee. Under the Senate Democrats' plan, potential private sector training costs could exceed $130 million.
Ensuring Safe Workplaces
There is no question sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious issue that cannot be ignored.
But it is clear that aspects of this latest proposal need more serious thought before being acted on by legislators.
It is also apparent that other voices and ideas must be brought to the table.
CBIA and our members work to ensure a safe and harassment-free workplace for all employees, and we will engage through the legislative process to help inform and shape measures broadening sexual harassment prevention.
One good starting point is ensuring that existing laws are enforceable in the workforce.
For example, Connecticut employers are prohibited from suspending without pay salaried employees who violate written workplace violence and harassment policies, which creates a double standard, since non-salaried employees can be suspended.
Closing this loophole would have an immediate effect and not cost the state or businesses anything.