Legislation making sweeping changes to the state's sexual harassment statutes potentially represents significant new costs for companies, particularly small businesses.
SB 132 expands Connecticut's workplace sexual harassment prevention training requirements to businesses with as few as three workers.
If passed as currently drafted, the bill would take effect October 1, 2018.
CBIA's Eric Gjede told the legislature's Judiciary Committee March 26 that the size and speed of the requirements in SB 132 may be too much for small businesses.
"Connecticut businesses are willing to do more to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, but requiring companies with only three employees to provide this training could be a massive cost for those businesses to bear," Gjede said.
"You are asking us to provide this costly training to more than one million employees while, at the same time, incurring the cost of millions of hours of lost productivity."
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Connecticut is one of three states where private sector employers must provide workplace training, mandating it for supervisors—within six months of hire or promotion—at companies with 50 or more employees.
California shares that requirement, while Maine requires businesses with 15 or more employees to provide sexual harassment prevention training to all employees. Connecticut's training requirements are more robust.
In Maine, an employer can show a video then have employees sign a form, indicating they watched it. Connecticut's requirements include two hours of instruction in a classroom-like setting where employees can ask questions and get answers.
Connecticut also requires a discussion of what constitutes harassment under state and federal laws, applicable penalties, and legal remedies.
SB 132 creates a strict liability law for employers, regardless of how careful they are or how much harassment training they provide employees.
"In essence, it creates a strict liability law for employers, regardless of how careful they are or how much harassment training they provide employees," he said.
"Even if the business 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, they are still potentially liable under this bill."
Gjede said SB 132 potentially creates liability for employers even if sexual harassment didn't occur, simply based on an employee's subjective belief and an employer's investigation into an allegation.
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That bill requires businesses with 15 or more employees provide sexual harassment training to every employee at least once every five years.
Current costs associated with training supervisors in Connecticut range between $100 and $150 per employee.
If HB 5043 becomes law, it expands that training mandate to more than one million workers, with private sector costs potentially exceeding $100 million every five years.
Gjede said there parts of SB 132 can help the state's business community, including a section allowing an employer to suspend without pay a salaried employee for violating any written workplace rule on harassment or violence.
Currently, businesses can only suspend hourly, non-salaried workers without pay for such violations. SB 132 corrects this disparity.
Gjede thanked the committee for that provision, but urged lawmakers to consider the bill's overall cost to business.
"We ask you to keep in mind the potential costs you are asking us to bear in this bill and consider that requirements on Connecticut businesses are already some of the most stringent in the nation," he said.