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New State Sexual Harassment Laws Impact Businesses Across US

Across the US, numerous high-profile sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination cases have put gaps in the legal system into the spotlight. In response, many states have started revisiting these laws. On opposite ends of the country, Connecticut and Oregon just passed comprehensive legislation to make reporting easier, retaliation more difficult, and penalties stiffer. Businesses in these states will need to review and update their sexual harassment policies—and businesses across the US should prepare for similar changes as more states follow suit.

Connecticut’s Sexual Assault and Harassment Act 

Connecticut’s Public Act 19-16 was recently signed into law and will soon affect businesses in a variety of ways, from training obligations to increased penalties for harassment violations. Below is a brief overview of the steps Connecticut employers will need to take as well as the key changes in laws employers should know.

Changes to Make:

  • Training: All supervisory employees must receive sexual harassment training, no matter the size of the business. If an employer has 3+ employees, ALL employees must receive sexual harassment training. Training must take place within 6 months of hire and be renewed every 10 years. Businesses will need to be in compliance by October 1, 2020.
  • Policy: Within three months of hire, employers are required to provide employees copies of a sexual harassment policy. The policy must explain the illegal nature of sexual harassment and how victims can seek help. Compliance is required by October 1, 2019.
  • Conditions of employment: After receiving a complaint, employers can’t substantially change the complainant’s working conditions without written consent. For instance, employers can’t change the employee’s work schedule or work location. This prohibition is intended to help prevent retaliation against complainants. This part of the legislation goes into effect October 1, 2019.

Changes to Note:

  • More time to file: Employees will have 300 days after an incident to file a claim (instead of 180 days) starting this October.
  • Increased penalties: As of October, 1, 2019, failing to post or distribute required information or failing to provide sexual harassment training for employees can result in fines up to $1,000. The act also allows employees with successful claims to receive punitive damages in addition to attorney fees.

Oregon’s Workplace Fairness Act

This past June, Oregon’s Workplace Fairness Act was signed into law. Oregon’s new act requires employers to disseminate a written policy and adapt to changes in employer hiring and separation agreements. Much like Connecticut’s act, Oregon also extends filing times for claims and increases penalties for violations.

Changes to Make:

  • Policy: Like Connecticut, Oregon is requiring employers to provide employees copies of a written sexual harassment policy. Oregon’s policy must explain how the company works to reduce and prevent sexual assault and discrimination. This policy must be available in the workplace, given upon hire, and given to employees at the time of a disclosure or complaint. Compliance is required by October 1, 2020.
  • Employment agreements: As of October 1, 2020, agreements can’t include provisions forbidding employees from discussing sexual assault or discrimination inside or outside of work. Except in limited circumstances, separation agreements can’t include provisions that prevent employees who’ve made claims under these laws from being rehired by the company. In separation agreements, severance payments (“golden parachutes”) can also be voided if an investigation shows that harassment and discrimination violations played a significant factor in the employment separation. Employers who fail to follow these new rules may be be subject to attorney fees and damages.

Changes to Note:

  • More time to file: Just like in Connecticut, employees in Oregon will have more time to file claims starting October 1, 2019. Instead of one year, employees will have 5 years to file.
  • Increased penalties: Beginning in October 2020, violations of these new laws can result in compensatory damages (generally up to $200) and punitive damages.

While the changes described above are specific to Connecticut and Oregon, changes to sexual harassment, assault and discrimination are rolling in across the country. Many businesses throughout the US will soon need to write or update related policies and agreements and be aware of new penalties and extended filing times for claims to be made.

Running a business is tough enough without constant changes. Northwest can make it easier. From registered agent service to annual report compliance, Northwest can help you maintain your business. When you let us take some of the load, you’re better able to adapt and respond to changes in the business world.

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