Connecticut employers take many steps and spend considerable resources to provide safe workplaces for their employees.
But legislation attempting to clarify laws governing sexual harassment prevention training actually hurts employers by eliminating affirmative defenses.
Current state law provides affirmative defenses for companies that have a prevention policy, investigate claims, take corrective action, and prevent retaliation.
Affirmative defenses are based on the principle of an employer having a sound prevention policy with timely intervention and corrective measures.
However, HB 7044 removes affirmative defenses.
"Eliminating these affirmative defenses ignores decades of U.S. Supreme Court precedent and removes a powerful incentive for employers to be responsible and proactive in responding to incidents of harassment in the workplace," CBIA's Eric Gjede told the legislature’s Labor and Public Employees Committee March 7.
Undermines Long-Standing Precedent
Section 2 of HB 7044 creates a strict liability law for employers regardless of how careful they are or how much harassment prevention training they provide employees, Gjede testified.
"Even if the business had made it abundantly clear to all employees that sexual harassment is prohibited, and then immediately corrected an employee who violated this policy and prevented any subsequent retaliation, the business is still potentially liable for damages under this bill," he said.
It can also be argued that the proposal creates liability for employers based on an employee's subjective belief—even if an investigation conducted in good faith concludes that sexual harassment didn't occur.
"This is particularly problematic in light of the proposed prohibition on employers taking any corrective action to benefit the complainant, including relocation, reassignment, or other change, without the complainant's written agreement," Gjede said.
He reminded committee members that Connecticut businesses strive to ensure workplaces are as safe as possible for employees.
"However, this bill undermines long-standing legal precedent that encourages employers to be proactive on sexual harassment prevention in the workplace," he said.