On June 18, 2019 Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signed a bill into law that makes sweeping changes to Connecticut employment law, especially for employers. Public Act No. 19-16, titled “An Act Combatting Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment,” commonly known as the “Time’s up Act,” substantially amends Connecticut’s sexual harassment laws. The new law is largely responsive to the #MeToo movement and imposes several new requirements on employers with respect to training and notice. The law also extends the time to file a Commission of Human Rights Opportunities (CHRO) complaint alleging discrimination, authorizes the court to award punitive damages in discrimination cases, and extends the time period for filing civil and criminal lawsuits related to sexual abuse. Employers of all sizes must take note of the new requirements as this expansive law implicates all Connecticut employers.
The current law requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide sexual harassment training to supervisors. The new law requires all employers to provide two hours of sexual harassment training to employees by October 1, 2020, provided any employer who has provided such training to any employees after October 1, 2018 shall not be required to provide training a second time.
Employers with three or more employees must provide training to employees hired on or after October 1, 2019, not later than six months after the date of hire, provided the CHRO has developed and made available such training materials as required under the Act.
Employers with less than three employees must provide training to all supervisory employees by October 1, 2020, and to all new supervisory employees within six months of their assumption of a supervisory position. However, employers that have provided such training to any such supervisory employee after October 1, 2018 are not required to provide such training a second time. Additionally, supervisory employees hired on or after October 1, 2019 by an employer having less than three employees must receive training not later than six months after the date of hire provided the CHRO has developed and made available such training materials as required under the Act.
Employers must also provide periodic supplemental training to supervisory and non-supervisory employees every 10 years. The new law also expands the penalty for noncompliance with training requirements by deeming the inaction a “discriminatory practice” and imposing a fine of up to $1,000.
The current law requires employers with three or more employees to post in a prominent and accessible location information regarding the illegality of sexual harassment and remedies available to victims of sexual harassment. The new law further requires employers with three or more employees to also provide a copy of that information to employees within three months after their start date. Employers are required to send the information to employees by email with the specific subject line “Sexual Harassment Policy” or similar wording. If the employees do not have company-provided email accounts or have not provided their employer with an email address, the information must be posted on the employer’s internet website if it maintains one.
The new law also requires the CHRO to develop and include a link on its website regarding the illegality of sexual harassment and the remedies for victims. An employer is in compliance with the above distribution requirement if it provides employees with the link to the CHRO website via email, text message or in writing. Under the new law, the fine for employers that do no post required notices of statutory provisions or provide the required training will be increased from $250 to $1,000.
- Immediate corrective action in response to a sexual harassment claim cannot modify the conditions of the complaining employee’s employment absent a written agreement
- Corrective action includes relocation, assigning a different work schedule, or other substantive changes to the terms and conditions of employment
- CHRO executive director may assign representatives to enter an employer’s business during normal hours to ensure compliance and examine records, policies, procedures, and training materials
- Effective July 1, 2019 the CHRO must develop interactive training/education and make it available to employees at no cost
- CHRO hearing officer is required to issue an order eliminating the discriminatory practice, determine the amount of damages, and allow reasonable attorney’s fees and costs upon finding of a discriminatory employment practice
- CHRO and each party to an administrative hearing must be provided the opportunity to inspect and copy relevant documents and the presiding officer can order a party to produce documents and issue a nonmonetary order against a party who fails to comply within 30 days
Civil Action in Lieu of Administrative Hearing
- Allows the CHRO executive director to assign commission legal counsel to bring a civil action regarding an alleged discriminatory practice when the director determines a civil action is in the public interest and the parties to the administrative hearing agree in writing
- The action must be tried to the Court without a jury and the Complainant may intervene as of right
- If the Court finds respondent has committed a discriminatory practice, the Court may grant the CHRO its fees and costs and award a civil penalty not to exceed $10,000
Statute of Limitations/Deadlines
- Extends deadline to file a discrimination complaint with the CHRO from 180 days after the alleged discriminatory act to 300 days
- Any victim under the age of 21 at the time of a sexual assault can file a civil lawsuit any time prior to his or her 51st birthday
- Eliminates the statute of limitations for the prosecution of any offense involving the sexual abuse, exploitation or assault of a minor
- The Court is allowed to award punitive damages in discrimination cases that are released from CHRO jurisdiction
The imposition of new requirements, extension of deadlines, and expansion of penalties, especially as they relate to training and posting/notice, necessitate each employer’s prompt attention to the Act. While most amendments are set to go into effect October 1, 2019 employers would benefit from looking ahead and beginning to adjust their policies and procedures to ensure they are compliant.