There is no question that in the wake of the recent scandals in Hollywood and corporate America, as well as the evolution of the ‘me too’ movement, the issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace has come to the forefront of American politics. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Capitol Hill have stepped forward describing an environment pervasive with sexual harassment, and advocating for mandatory sexual harassment awareness training for all legislative branch staffers. It appears that Connecticut may even be going a step farther.
A few weeks ago, Senate Democrats introduced the “Times Up Act”, which seeks a comprehensive overhaul of Connecticut’s sexual harassment and sexual assault laws. While the Bill has yet to be drafted, outlines of its contents are being shared at http://www.senatedems.ct.gov/docshr/pdf/TimesUp-handout.pdf. The Time’s Up Actwould significantly modify sexual harassment training laws by requiring employers with three or more employees to provide sexual harassment training. Currently, the law requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide training and only to employees in supervisory roles. This Act would include all employees, not just supervisors.
The Act also seeks to revamp the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (“CHRO”) by providing additional investigative and enforcement resources to this agency. Concerned that the strict and short filing deadlines in Connecticut can impede a victim from bringing a sexual harassment complaint, the laws proposed by Senate Democrats would extend the deadline for a victim of harassment to file a complaint with the CHRO from six months to two years. Instead of a 90 day deadline to file a suit in court after the CHRO has released jurisdiction of the case, the victim would have two years to file. The legislation would give the CHRO the power to petition the court for punitive damages for sexual harassment and other employment discrimination. The Act also seeks to eliminate the statute of limitations for all felony sexual assault crimes.
While some may argue that the timing of the introduction of the “Times Up Act” seeks to latch on to the current media frenzy surrounding these issues, one thing is certain: times are changing and we can expect to see fundamental changes in our sexual harassment workplace laws. It will be interesting to see how Connecticut lawmakers react to these proposed changes in this election year. Regardless of the outcome of this legislative effort and the laws already in place, time is up, employers should engage their workforce in creating and fostering workplaces free from harassment and retaliation. It’s not just good for the bottom line, it’s a social and moral imperative.