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.

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.

Illinois Sexual Harassment Training will now be Required: What does an Employer do?

Last week the Illinois General Assembly approved legislation that would require all employers in that state to conduct mandatory sexual harassment training. If signed into law by Illinois Governor Pritzker, this law would take effect on July 1, 2020 and would be the most comprehensive of its kind in the country. Given the substantial implications for employers (and the extremely high likelihood that it will be signed into law) it is imperative that employers prepare for and implement a harassment training program now, so that they can be ahead of the curve once the training is required soon after the July 1, 2020 effective date of the law.

Illinois is Likely Follow the New York Legislative Path

 

In April 2018 New York enacted legislation that is similar in scope to the law just passed by the Illinois General Assembly. The New York law had an effective date of October 9, 2019 and an original requirement that employers complete the training by January 1, 2019. That requirement was later modified to October 9, 2019. As you see with the Illinois law having an effective date of July 1, 2020, it can be expected that training will need to be complete sometime within the 2020 calendar year.

 

New York released a list of FAQ and modified its law several times leading up to the release of the model training program it issued in late August 2019. You can expect Illinois to do the same, and given the Illinois Department of Human Rights history, you can expect somewhat more clarification as to what needs to be contained in your training program given there is less conflict between municipalities and the state than there was in New York last year.

 

What we know for sure is Illinois will require employers to provide training on an annual basis, and the Illinois Department of Human Rights will be keeping a close watch on what type of training employers are providing. This means it is a good idea to get started on the process now, rather than waiting for the law to go into effect and scrambling to comply with the law on a retroactive basis. You will be providing your employees with training on an annual basis going forward, so why wait another year?

 

Provide Training in Summer 2019

 

The new Illinois law requires employers to annually train their employees on the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. It also requires employers to provide an explanation of what constitutes harassment under Illinois State law, provide examples of harassment, summarize state and federal laws (and remedies for) sexual harassment, and summarize the responsibilities of employers in recognizing, investigating, preventing and taking corrective measures to prevent harassment.

 

There is no need to wait for the Illinois Department of Human Rights to release the model training program to get a jump on providing your employees with sexual harassment training. While there will be greater clarification in the requirements of the training by the time the law goes into effect, providing training now, when the news is fresh, shows your employees that your organization is serious about not just compliance with the law, but also with eliminating a culture where harassment is tolerated by setting the training trend in your industry rather than merely following the law when it goes into effect. Syntrio is ready to train your employees on the prevention of sexual harassment in Illinois and we can help.

 

Syntrio’s Model is Effective

 

Even if you are not prepared to launch a full-scale Illinois training program in advance of the new law’s effective date, we can still work with you using our industry-leading learning continuum that has set the standard for effective harassment training nationwide. Syntrio has over 20 years experience working with states with mandatory training laws, and we believe in our model.

Whether you choose to provide your employees our Illinois sexual harassment training course now or at the time the law goes into effect you can be assured you are providing your workforce the most comprehensive and engaging training available on the market. Syntrio develops its sexual harassment courseware based on a “hub model” wherein approximately 70% of its content and scenarios are consistent across jurisdiction, yet a full third of the content is customized to the nuances of each state’s law, culture, fit and feel. Should you have employees in multiple jurisdictions they will all feel as though they have taken the same course, yet you can trust that you will be in full compliance with the law in each mandatory training state, which is not something that can be said by our competitors using a “one size fits all” model.

 

Syntrio encourages your organization to get a head start on training your Illinois workforce on the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. We are prepared to discuss a plan with your leaders that will not only comply with the new law but position your organization as a true champion of equal opportunity rights.

New York Seeks to Expand Sexual Harassment Laws

In 2018, New York enacted sweeping legislation requiring employers to train nearly all employees that work in that State. While it is likely employers are still scrambling to meet these new requirements, the 2019 legislative session shows no signs of New York slowing down its efforts to eradicate offensive behavior from its workplaces.

 

Lawmakers within New York seek to pass ten bills that would dramatically expand employee protections from sexual and other harassment. Most importantly, the State seeks to alter its constitution to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of everything from sex to national origin and everything in between. Such a change would alter the landscape of legal interpretation of New York harassment law, and provide yet another avenue for victims to argue that their claim was indeed illegal harassment. Constitutional protections can simplify some of the complicated statutory provisions that make up this area of law.

 

Along this same line, New York’s legislature seeks to remove the requirement that misconduct meet the current “severe and pervasive” standard. Currently, except in extreme circumstances, for conduct to be considered illegal harassment it must be both severe and “pervasive.” The pervasive component requires misconduct to occur on a repeated and ongoing basis, something that is a sticking point in many harassment lawsuits, and leaves many trials ending in verdicts for the defense. Should this change occur, the standard would be streamlined, and even single incidents of offensive behavior could create liability for employers.

 

New York also seeks to clean up statutory language to ensure harassment is officially considered a form of discrimination, hold employers liable for the misconduct of all non-employees, and extend the time employees have to file a complaint with the New York Division of Human Rights. Such legal and procedural changes would certainly have an impact on the ability of employers to have greater access to remedies for harassment, and would undoubtedly increase the number of harassment lawsuits filed within New York.

 

Undoubtedly, employers operating within New York have been given reason to pause and examine their policies and procedures regarding workplace harassment in the last two years. The news that the State legislature seeks to expand protections for employees in this space even further should be the impetus for your organization to take a full-scale audit of its practices to ensure compliance with State and local laws is met. Failing to do so could leave your organization behind the curve as laws within the Empire state continue to expand.