Wrong Time for Time Out (SB 132)
As the current legislative session enters its final week, state lawmakers are preparing to—once again—sacrifice Connecticut employers and entrepreneurs on the altar of political expediency.
Heralded by Democratic lawmakers as “The Largest Overhaul in Modern Connecticut History of Sexual Harassment Law,” the “Times Up Act” is a potent example of policy created to sound great on the campaign trail—but without regard for the bill’s actual impact. And in this case, such caviler legislating will carry a very real cost, as, the Time’s Up Act would impose crippling new costs and regulatory mandates on Connecticut’s employers.
Although you wouldn’t know it from the hyperbole surrounding the Times Up Act, Connecticut is a leader in creating safe, inclusive workplaces. Indeed, Connecticut is just one of three states that that require private sector employees to provide sexual harassment prevention training, mandating it for supervisors at companies with 50 or more employees. And by every statistical indication, these measures are working: As a result of Connecticut’s rigorous training and enforcement requirements, the number of sexual harassment complaints filed with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO), which handles discrimination and other workplace complaints, is down from a high of 271 in 2001 to about 158 in 2017. To put this in perspective, consider the following: In 2017, the CHRO 2,490 new complaints; only 158—or approximately six percent—of said complaints involved sexual harassment.
When it comes to throwing red meat from the campaign trail, however, championing effective laws already on the books lacks a certain partisan sizzle.
And so, with an eye toward the 2018 elections, Connecticut lawmakers are pushing legislation that targets small-business and entrepreneurs with a series of onerous regulations—hardly the type of legislation needed to reverse the state’s anemic 0.1 percent increase in job growth (a seven-year low).
Under the Time’s Up Act, employers with three or more employees would be required to provide training to all employees. This unprecedented expansion of the current law’s requirements would cost Connecticut’s private sector between $100 million and $130 million in new training fees alone. With the state struggling to attract and retain new industries and new jobs, increasing the cost of doing business in Connecticut is ridiculous—especially when the current sexual harassment laws are demonstrably effective.
Furthermore, current state law provides affirmative defenses for companies that have policies against sexual harassment; train their employees, properly investigate any claim of harassment; take immediate corrective action; and prevent retaliation. In other words, if an employee harasses a colleague and the company conducts a thorough investigation, stops the harassment, and guards against any and all forms of retaliation, that business faces no liability.
In providing such an affirmative defense for employers, Connecticut has done an admirable job balancing the proverbial carrot with the stick, rewarding employers who spend the time, and considerable expense, necessary to combat sexual harassment. The Times Up Act, however, would strip employers of this defense, destroying the existing public-private partnership that has been so effective in reducing sexual harassment in Connecticut workplaces.
Finally, the Times Up Act ignores a number of potential, practical reforms that could further strengthen Connecticut’s already formidable sexual harassment laws. For example, employers find navigating the CHRO process almost Kafka-esque in its procedural complexities and seemingly endless duration. Genuine reforms to the CHRO investigatory process could include efforts to streamline the process and resolve claims faster—as well as a more efficient method of dismissing cases that fail to meet certain basic criteria.
Such common-sense reforms won’t garner splashy headlines. But they will help ensure our state remains on the cutting edge of sexual harassment prevention—without sacrificing job growth or economic revitalization.