Connecticut Harassment Training Requirements Greatly Expand Under New Law

“Your time is up, my time is now.” 

 

New Englanders likely recognize the above phrase, which is uttered repeatedly in the entrance music for WWE superstar and New England native John Cena. Ironically, with WWE often associated with misogynistic practices towards its female characters, the phrase takes on new meaning in Connecticut with the advent of a law passed in mid-June that greatly expands the requirements for employer harassment training in that state.

 

Gone are the days when only supervisors must be trained in mid and large organizations. Instead, Connecticut now will require nearly every employee working in that state to receive two-hours of training on the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. 

 

According to a law signed by Governor Ned Lamont on June 18, 2019 entitled the “Time’s Up” Act, employers with three or more employees will need to provide their entire workforce with sexual harassment training by October 1, 2020 (unless training was provided after October 1, 2018). For those employees hired by organizations with three or more employees after October 1, 2019, this training must be completed within the first six months of their employment. 

 

Employers with three or fewer employees still must provide training, although the requirements for those small organizations look much like the old law, which required two hours of training for supervisors only. Under the new law, very small employers will be exempt from training the entirety of the workforce, but still must have their supervisors trained by October 1, 2020 (or within six months of hire date if hired after October 1, 2019). 

 

In contrast to many of the other states that have enacted mandatory sexual harassment training in recent years, Connecticut does not require annual or bi-annual training. Instead, the state requires that employers re-train their employees once every ten years, which eases the burden somewhat, an especially important fact given the large amount of time that Connecticut is requiring all employers to invest in training sessions. 

 

Should employers choose not to train, the new law imposes monetary penalties including fines of up to $1,000, as well as the potential for attorney fees and punitive damages when a complainant comes forward to the Connecticut Human Rights Organization with an accusation that his or her employer is not following this new law. The latter could cause a cottage industry within the Connecticut plaintiffs’ bar wherein attorneys seek clients within those organizations that are either intentionally or unintentionally ignoring the training requirement. This of course could cause far greater pain for employers who are not in compliance than the $1,000 fine.

 

Syntrio is well equipped to help your workforce comply with the new Connecticut training law. We encourage you to contact us immediately to develop a program for compliance.

The Department of Justice’s Gift That Keeps on Giving – Part 3

Two prior blogs have addressed the recently updated 2019 Department of Justice Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Program criteria. Department prosecutors use these criteria to assess an organization’s commitment to implementing and operating a compliance program when an organization comes before the Department, principally facing prosecution.

 

Among the chief factors that these criteria focus on is an organization’s compliance training and communications. Since 1991, when the US Sentencing Commission established its own evaluation criteria, training and communications has been considered as an integral part of a successful compliance effort. The Department’s 2017 criteria continue this focus, and the 2019 updated Department criteria strengthens it. While these updates do not substantially change those important considerations regarding training and communication, they do enhance these considerations in some profound ways.

 

First, let’s return to the 2017 criteria. It focused on four principal components:

  1. Risk-based training
  2. Form, content and effectiveness of the training
  3. Communications about misconduct
  4. Availability of guidance

 

Risk-Based Training

According to the DOJ, it’s important that training relate to employees’ jobs; to this end, an organization should take steps to determine which training should be delivered to which employees, rather than simply deliver general compliance training to all employees. More specifically, an organization should determine for employees that engage in high-risk activities or handle certain control functions which training they should receive and that is tailored specifically to their job functions. This provides a means to focus limited training resources to better prevent or detect compliance problems. The 2019 guidance adds to this the importance of supervisory training—specifically whether supervisors receive different or supplementary training specific to their oversight roles. This supports the 2019 criteria’s broader focus on the role of managers, their duties to both prevent and detect compliance problems and the greater risk they can present if they engage in misconduct.

 

Training Form, Content and Effectiveness

The 2017 criteria asked about whether training is provided in a form and language appropriate to its audience, and whether the organization measures the training’s effectiveness. This second criterion is even more important in the 2019 guidance due to its increased focus on whether a compliance program works in practice. The 2019 criteria adds four more factors:

  • What’s an organization’s rationale for its decision to use online, in-person on both formats of training? In other words, has the organization actively considered whether the training approach it chooses will demonstrate effectiveness?
  • Does the training address the organization’s lessons learned from prior compliance incidents? This, of course, assumes that an organization periodically assesses its risks due to past problems in order to fold it into training.
  • Does the organization test learners on what they learn to determine whether the training is effective?
  • What steps does the organization take when employees fail part or all of this testing? (Surprisingly, it appears some organizations fail to follow up on testing failures!)

 

With these updates to 2019 criteria, the DOJ signals that it expects organizations to give real consideration to the training that it implements—not just assume any training configuration suffices. It also indicates specific steps the organization can take to holistically demonstrate that the training will matter to what employees learn and what they do.

 

Communication About Misconduct

Outside (or perhaps as part of) training, the DOJ wants to see that leadership communicates about its attitude regarding misconduct—in other words, that leadership will take steps to discipline transgressors. To this point, an important factor is how the organization communicates when an employee is terminated, or otherwise disciplined (added to the 2019 criteria), for failing to comply with the organization’s standards. For those organizations concerned about a lawsuit for communicating about an employee’s termination, these criteria suggest that such communications be anonymized so the lesson can still be conveyed while the organization avoid running afoul of privacy concerns.

 

Availability of Guidance

Finally, the fourth criteria remains the same in the 2019 update: What resources does the organization provide to employees to support compliance policies, and how does the organization assess whether employees know when to seek advice and whether they’re willing to do so? The DOJ still wants organizations to actively and purposefully provide their employees with guidance regarding compliance risks and demonstrate they know whether employees are comfortable using this guidance.

 

Additional Expectations

The 2019 criteria emphasize that an organization’s training include its directors, officers, and where relevant, agents and business partners, in addition to its employees. They also reinforce the importance that training be tailored to this audience’s size, sophistication and subject matter expertise, such as through training on case studies or real-life scenarios and providing guidance on ways learners can obtain ethics advice regarding specific situations they face.

 

In Conclusion

These expectations raise the bar on the level of training that organizations should anticipate providing. An organization can benefit from responding to these criteria in many ways:

  • It will likely fare better if it should run into a legal action the DOJ oversees
  • We anticipate other regulators will adopt similar guidelines in evaluating organizations that violate their related regulations
  • These criteria, or similar ones, are likely to make their way into case law and the criteria judges use to decide verdicts and sentence organizations
  • This raises the bar on good business practices as more and more organizations respond to these criteria in beefing up their own programs

 

As shown, many reasons exist for an organization to carefully consider how to implement strong, effective compliance training. Still, many businesses will focus on the effort involved in delivering such training versus the chance of running into regulatory or legal problems. In taking such a short-sighted approach, these businesses miss the many benefits to their operations by avoiding compliance problems in the first place.

Syntrio’s Award-winning FlexCode Code of Conduct Training

We are very pleased to announce that Syntrio’s "FlexCode Code of Conduct Training" has been selected as a Runner-Up in the E-Learning category of the 2019 International E-Learning Awards, Business Division, given by the International E-Learning Association

What are the International E-Learning Awards?

The International E-Learning Awards are given each year for the best work in e-learning, mobile learning, and blended learning. All submissions are evaluated based on educational soundness, effectiveness, usability, and overall significance.

What is the International E-Learning Association (IELA)?

IELA was founded in 2007 and is a diverse organization made up of members from every continent who are e-learning professionals, researchers, and students coming together from the realms of business, industry, government, and academia.

What does this Award stand for?

The International E-Learning Awards recognize the best uses of technology to improve learning and job performance within companies or through individual professional development.

What is Syntrio’s FlexCode?

FlexCode is the next evolution in Code of Conduct training. Syntrio ethics and compliance training are designed to bring learners into realistic  situations, where they must immediately apply what they learn about a specific topic. Further, Syntrio’s customizable ethics and compliance solution favors practical and relevant information, unburdened by “legalese,” so employees absorb the benefits of ethical behavior, as well as explore how to respond when questionable situations arise.

Businesses can choose any combination of Core, Summary, and Ethical Snapshot modules to design course that suits their unique Code of Conduct training needs. To learn more visit http://www.syntrio.com/resources/flexcode-brochure/ 

If you want to learn more about the International E-Learning Association visit their website at https://www.ielassoc.org/index.html 

 

Is Intolerance Boiling Under the Surface of your LGBTQ Diversity Initiative?

It is encouraging to see a large number of businesses showing enthusiasm for Pride month, when just a few years ago many companies were hesitant to publicly endorse their support for the LGBTQ community out of fear of things like “customer backlash” or “taking a stance.” Many businesses are thankfully no longer afraid to show support for a very important segment of the population, and are (at least outwardly) embracing sexual orientation and gender diversity in a variety of different ways. Such enthusiasm would make an observer think LGBTQ employees are happier at work than ever, but recent surveys and research into the subject indicate that may not be the case.

 

Recent Surveys Indicate LGBTQ Employees Still Subject to Intolerant Workplaces

According to a recent survey conducted in  by Monster.com, at least 20% of the more than 600 people surveyed answered that their organization has a negative attitude toward the LGBTQ community (regardless of the organization’s public stance on the issue). Likewise, 56% of respondents answered that their organization should be doing more to recruit and retain members of the LGBTQ community to fill jobs where they work.

 

Similarly, a 2019 study conducted by Glassdoor.com revealed 43% of LGBTQ employees surveyed feel they cannot be truly “out” at work, and nearly half of those respondents (47%) felt they could lose their job if they revealed their sexuality or gender identity. The Glassdoor survey also revealed that 50% of LGBTQ employees surveyed had witnessed discrimination or harassment related to their own or another employee’s LGBTQ status.

 

Putting on a Happy Face is not Enough

Respondents to surveys indicate an overwhelming lack of desire to work for organizations that are intolerant of LGBTQ employees. Further, the disturbing findings in the Monster.com and Glassdoor.com show that organizational perceptions of tolerance toward LGBTQ employees are out of touch with reality. For these reasons, it is clearly time for a change in the way organizations formulate and maintain their diversity and inclusion initiatives when it comes to LGBTQ employees.

 

All too many organizations are displaying rainbow icons on their social media accounts and donating money to LGBTQ initiatives, yet those same organizations are failing to support the entirety of their workforce. When companies put on a “happy face” to the public regarding LGBTQ issues, yet fail to support those members of that community working within their organization, the intolerance under the surface truly makes the “inclusion” portion of LGBTQ diversity and inclusion that much more painful to those that witness intolerance in the workplace.

 

The Law Should not be Your Guide (Unless it is Pro-LGBTQ)

Part of the reason organizations still feel hesitant to fully embrace LGBTQ diversity in their workplace is the law. It may surprise you depending on your geographic location, but 26 states still do not provide EEO protection to LGBTQ employees. Compounding this fact is the unsettled nature of federal law on LGBTQ discrimination and harassment.


Given the natural tendency of many compliance officers and HR departments to let the law dictate their policy, a surprising number of employers do not include LGBTQ protections in their policy. While the monster.com survey revealed 85% of responding organizations do have an anti-discrimination polciy in place for LGBTQ employees (regardless of jurisdictional law), this is still far higher than the 68% of employees who felt there was support and enforcement of that policy.

 

Employers need to embrace the concerns of their LGBTQ workforce and understand that the LGBTQ community is an exponentially growing segment of the workforce. The law in this area is changing, but more importantly, societal views toward those organizations that discriminate and/or are intolerant toward LGBTQ employees are extremely negative.

 

Syntrio takes pride in its support for the LGBTQ community and makes a point of emphasizing the importance of protecting this segment of the workforce (and all employees in general) in its courseware. If your organization is not doing all it can to support and protect LGBTQ employees, it is behind the curve and hopefully the eye-opening statistics discussed above are enough of a business reason to embrace your LGBTQ employees and ensure they feel happy and safe in their work environment

Beyond Rainbow Flags

During Pride Month, you’re probably seeing the rainbow Pride flag everywhere, including in the logos of companies and brands you follow on social media. While this type of representation and visible ally ship is valuable, it’s important that your organization matches its public displays of support with internal policies and workplace culture that is truly inclusive of LGBTQ+ employees. Just under half of LGBTQ+ employees are still closeted (meaning they are not open about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity) at work and 42% of LGBTQ+ individuals report having experienced some type of employment discrimination according to a 2012 survey.

 

Making your company a safe and supportive place to work for all individuals regardless of gender identity and expression and sexual orientation is not only the right thing to do, it also is linked to measurably positive business outcomes. It’s no coincidence that 91% of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination policies, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  Businesses that are LGBTQ+ friendly report economic benefits in the following areas:

 

  • Recruitment and Retention: According to data from Glassdoor, over two-thirds of job seekers say that a diverse workforce is a major factor when deciding whether to apply for a job or accept a job offer. Inclusive workplaces attract top talent and are less likely to have employees leave their jobs as a result of discrimination. The Center for American Progress cites a study estimating that replacing over two million workers who quit as a result of discrimination has an estimated annual average cost of $64 billion.
  • Higher Revenues: The same Chamber of Commerce report notes, “Those publicly held companies with LGBT-friendly policies have seen their stock prices increase by an average 6.5% compared with their industry peers.”
  • Customer/Consumer Relationships: According to research cited in The Advocate, the LGBTQ+ population in the United States represented $917 billion in buying power in 2017. As a consumer base, LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies also tend to be more brand loyal, with over 75% of LGBTQ+ adults (and their allies, friends, and family members) saying they would switch to brands known to be LGBTQ+  friendly.
  • Innovation: Research by the Center for Talent Innovation found that inherently diverse companies demonstrate greater market innovation due to a “speak up” culture that allows the ideas of more employees to be heard. Furthermore, they found that when business teams have “one or more members who represent the gender, ethnicity, culture, or sexual orientation of the team’s target end user, the entire team is far more likely (as much as 158% more likely) to understand that target, increasing their likelihood of innovating effectively for that end user.”

 

Can Respect and Civility Be Trained?

In a word, yes but consider the stereotypes and conscious and unconscious bias we all bring to work. Multiply this lack of awareness of civility by the number of employees in an organization and you see the challenge. Only self-awareness and emotional intelligence (EQ) training, (both of which is offered by Syntrio) can help us understand what our words and actions may do to another person. It’s no secret that enlightened organizations (and those that inspire to be) incorporate self-awareness and EQ training as an essential part of their respectful and civil workplace initiatives.

 

Building a Truly Inclusive Workplace

From policies to training to benefits, there are many ways to make your workplace more LGBTQ+ friendly, which has the added benefit of making your organization more welcoming to people from all types of diverse backgrounds: women, minorities, individuals with disabilities, military veterans, and others. In addition to training (for example, diversity and inclusion courses from Syntrio) and policy, your organization  can use LGBTQ+ inclusive language in internal and external communications, have an LGBTQ+ employee resource group, and consider donating to LGBTQ+-related causes.

 

Hopefully, next year when Pride Month comes around, you can feel confident that your company’s rainbow logo is backed by a deeply held commitment to inclusion, diversity, and anti-discrimination.