Employers are the key to developing workplace harassment solutions

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The workplace is shifting, and it’s clear that what has been tolerated in the past will no longer be acceptable. That’s a good thing. Everyone deserves to work in an environment where they feel safe, and employers must be part of the solution.

As it stands now, Connecticut is a leader in creating safe workplaces. Our sexual harassment prevention training laws are some of the most stringent in the nation, and we should all be proud of that.

Connecticut is one of just three states that require private sector employers to provide sexual harassment prevention training, mandating it for supervisors at companies with 50 or more employees.

Two legislative proposals make dramatic changes to that requirement.

Gov. Dannel Malloy’s bill, HB 5043, now awaiting action in the state House, requires businesses with 15 or more employees to train all employees every five years, meaning about 1 million Connecticut workers will need training.

Senate Democrats crafted another bill, SB 132, that sets similar requirements but drops the threshold and mandates any business with three or more employees train all employees.

Training is expensive, with per-employee costs ranging from $100-$150. Complying with HB 5043 and SB 132 could cost Connecticut’s private sector over $100 million in new training costs alone.

Costs and administrative burdens aside, a more troubling component of SB 132 is the removal of certain protections for companies that strive to create a safe, harassment-free work environment.

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 does all the right things —has a policy in place, investigates the claim, takes corrective action, and prevents retaliation— the business faces no liability.

However, under SB 132, if another employee later does the same thing —even if the company takes all the right steps afterwards— the business is strictly liable if a judge or the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities decides that those two incidents comprise a pattern.

This creates a no-win situation for employers, especially those who go through incredible effort and expense to provide a safe workplace.

Everyone agrees that workplace harassment prevention is good policy. We need to strike a balance to make safe work environments an attainable goal for all employers. That means it is critical that lawmakers find the right solution in addressing issues currently making headlines around the country.

It is equally important for the legislature to understand that Connecticut employers support safe work environments and are already doing our part to find solutions.

Lawmakers must also ensure any changes to current law do not bring severe and costly consequences for businesses, particularly smaller employers.

We want all our colleagues to be protected from harmful and abusive environments.

We want to make changes now so no one will have to experience anything like others before them.

Sexual harassment is a serious problem, but the solutions outlined in current proposals are too vast and too expensive for Connecticut businesses, particularly small businesses.

Robin Imbrogno is President, COO and Founder of The Human Resource Consulting Group, LLC. Thomas F. Curtin, Jr., is Corporate Director, Human Resources of Ulbrich Stainless Steels & Special Metals, Inc.

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