Last month, Governor Ned Lamont signed into law Public Act 19-16 (and certain amendments to that Act contained in Public Act 19-93), widely referred to as the “Time’s Up Act.” The Act (and subsequent amendments) makes substantial changes to Connecticut’s harassment and discrimination laws, which will mostly take effect on October 1, 2019.

Changes To Training Requirements

The law makes the following long-anticipated changes to Connecticut’s sexual harassment training requirements:

  • All employers are now required to provide training to current supervisors by October 1, 2020 and to all new supervisory employees within six months of assuming the supervisory role. Employers that trained their supervisors hired on or after October 1, 2018 are not required to provide the training a second time.  Previously, only employers with 50 or more employees were required to provide such training.
  • Employers with three or more employees must provide training to all current employees (supervisors and non-supervisors) hired on or after October 1, 2019 within six months after hire.

The new law also requires that employers provide supplemental training at least every 10 years.  Failure to comply with the training requirements can be considered a discriminatory practice and will result in a fine of $750.

Notice Requirements

Currently, Connecticut law requires employers with three or more employees to post information concerning the illegality of sexual harassment and the remedies available to victims “in a prominent and accessible location.”  The new law requires that employers with three or more employees provide the same information to employees by e-mail within three months of hire: (1) if the employer provides an e-mail account to the employee, or (2) if the employee has provided the employer with an e-mail address.  Employers must include the words “Sexual Harassment Policy” or “words of similar import” in the subject line.  Employers may satisfy this notice requirement by providing the employee with a link to the section of the CHRO’s website which contains information on the illegality of sexual harassment and the remedies available.  Failure to comply with the new notice requirements will also result in a $750 fine.

Employee Consent Required For Corrective Action

Under the new law, when taking “immediate corrective action” to address sexual harassment claims, employers may not modify the conditions of employment of the complaining employee unless the employee agrees in writing.  Corrective action is defined by the law as: (1) complaining employee relocation; (2) assigning the complaining employee to a different work schedule; or (3) other substantive changes to an employee’s terms and conditions of employment.  However, there is an exception to this requirement if the CHRO determines that the corrective action was “reasonable” and “not harmful” to the Complainant.

Filing Deadline Extended for All Harassment, Retaliation and Discrimination Claims

Beginning October 1, 2019, the CHRO filing deadline for claims of harassment, retaliation and/or discrimination will be increased from 180 to 300 days from the adverse action.  Although this is a significant increase, the CHRO deadline is now aligned with the federal standard.

Available Remedies Expanded

The new law significantly expands the remedies available at the CHRO and in court.  The CHRO may now: (1) “make the complainant whole” by determining the actual damages suffered, including awarding actual costs incurred and (2) award reasonable attorney’s fees to a prevailing complainant.  Regarding attorney’s fees, the law explicitly states the amount of attorney’s fees cannot be contingent upon the damages requested by or awarded to the Complainant.

Further, a court may now award punitive damages to a prevailing plaintiff.  These changes were meant to address a recent Connecticut Supreme Court case which held that punitive damages were not available under CFEPA because the statute did not expressly state that punitive damages were an available remedy.

Other Interesting Changes

The new law makes the following other changes:

  • Appointment of Magistrates. The CHRO may now appoint magistrates from the Chief Administrator of the Connecticut Superior Court’s list of available magistrates to conduct public hearings when there is a backlog of more than 100 cases.
  • Limited Discovery at Public Hearings. The new law provides that parties have the opportunity to “inspect and copy relevant and material records, papers, and documents” of the other party at CHRO public hearings.  The presiding officer may also order production of documents.
  • Actions in the Public Interest. The CHRO may now assign legal counsel to pursue action in court on behalf of the Complainant rather than conducting a public hearing.  If the CHRO is successful in establishing discrimination or harassment by “clear and convincing evidence” the court may award the CHRO’s costs and legal fees and civil penalties up to $10,000.
  • Authorization to Enter Premises for Inspection. The new law allows the CHRO to enter an employer’s premises during business hours to ensure compliance with the posting requirements and to inspect all records, policies, procedures and training materials.  The CHRO’s authority is limited to situations in which the CHRO’s executive director “reasonably believes” the employer is violating the law or during the 12-month period following the date on which a complaint was filed against the employer.  In addition, if the place of business is the employer’s residential home, the homeowner must give the CHRO express permission.

These changes to the law will significantly affect the workplace and how cases are litigated.  We will keep you updated as the new law develops.