With a new wave of sex harassment complaints making headlines, there is also a bit of reflection that should happen at workplaces and the lawfirms that counsel them.

One area that we can evaluate is whether the training that is provided is effective.

A report yesterday from NPR concluded that training is just not working at many workplaces. 

The primary reason most harassment training fails is that both managers and workers regard it as a pro forma exercise aimed at limiting the employer’s legal liability.

For those of us who have been paying attention, this isn’t new.  I know that for the trainings I give, I try to have them be engaging with discussions of different fact scenarios being discussed.

But I’ve wondered whether we could be doing more.

Indeed, the EEOC issued a report last year highlighting the problems with existing training programs.

In its executive summary, it noted two big issues with the current model of training:

  • Training Must Change. Much of the training done over the last 30 years has not worked as a prevention tool – it’s been too focused on simply avoiding legal liability. We believe effective training can reduce workplace harassment, and recognize that ineffective training can be unhelpful or even counterproductive. However, even effective training cannot occur in a vacuum – it must be part of a holistic culture of non-harassment that starts at the top. Similarly, one size does not fit all: Training is most effective when tailored to the specific workforce and workplace, and to different cohorts of employees. Finally, when trained correctly, middle-managers and first-line supervisors in particular can be an employer’s most valuable resource in preventing and stopping harassment.
  • New and Different Approaches to Training Should Be Explored. We heard of several new models of training that may show promise for harassment training. “Bystander intervention training” – increasingly used to combat sexual violence on school campuses – empowers co-workers and gives them the tools to intervene when they witness harassing behavior, and may show promise for harassment prevention. Workplace “civility training” that does not focus on eliminating unwelcome or offensive behavior based on characteristics protected under employment non-discrimination laws, but rather on promoting respect and civility in the workplace generally, likewise may offer solutions.”

Connecticut requires harassment training; I’ve talked about the requirements in some prior posts (check this one out from 2010, for example.)  But employers who have just gone through the motions, aren’t doing enough as we’ve now seen.

As we continue to work to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace, having an effective policy is only part of the solution.

Making sure the training we provide to employees is helpful is obviously a part as well — and something that may have been overlooked in the past.

But finding that perfect solution to training still seems elusive.

Wrapping up my look back this shortened week at some “Basics” posts, here’s a reminder of the obligations employers have to conduct sexual harassment prevention trainings.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and thanks for your continued readership.  

With every new law that gets passed, it’s easy to overlook the existing requirements that employers must follow.

After all, if employers are just tracking the new laws down without first nailing down compliance with “older” ones, then they are leaving themselves just as vulnerable to potential claims.

One area that is easy to overlook is sexual harassment prevention, particularly in Connecticut. Indeed, some employers believe that simply adopting a policy is all that is required.

And they would be wrong.

So, it’s time to go back to the basics and make sure you’ve hit the checklist when it comes to sexual harassment prevention in Connecticut.  Here are some things to consider:

  • All employers with 3 or more employees, must post notices regarding sexual harassment. Rather than tell you what it should say, just download the poster from the CHRO directly.  And it’s free.   (While you’re at it, consider spending some money to buy the all-in-one posters offered by some commercial ventures; alternatively, you can get the notices from each of the agencies.)
  • The CHRO suggests (but does not mandate) that the notices also include: A statement concerning the employer’s policies and procedures regarding sexual harassment and a statement concerning the disciplinary action that may be taken if sexual harassment has been committed; and  contact person at the place of employment to whom one can report complaints of sexual harassment or direct questions or concerns regarding sexual harassment.  Those are good ideas. Add them.
  • The notices need to be posted in a prominent location.  A shared lunch room is typical. Don’t bury them in a location that employees will never see.
  • Employers with 50 or more employees must also provide two hours of training and education to all supervisory employees of employees in the State of Connecticut within six months of their assumption of a supervisory position.  If you haven’t done such training, get it done now.  Your company’s preferred lawfirm should be able to do it or, in some instances, an employer’s EPLI carrier may also provide that service.
  • The training has certain requirements, such as that it is done in a classroom-like setting.  Some e-learning programs are now allowed under a 2003 informal opinion of the CHRO.
  • The CHRO recommends (but does not require) that an update of legal requirements and development in the law be given to supervisory employees every three years.  Again, that’s probably a good idea; it demonstrates an employer’s commitment to this issue.
  • The CHRO encourages employers to keep records of such training. I would go further than that to say that employers should strongly consider it.  If faced with a sexual harassment claim, such records may be key evidence to support the employer’s arguments that it took steps to ensure such harassment did not occur by training its employees.

Do you have all of these items under control? If so, you’re a step ahead.  If not, don’t ignore the issue.

Take steps to get the training done (Shipman & Goodwin provides such seminars on a frequent basis) and make sure your policies and procedures are current.

IIMG_9091 don’t care who you are: Somewhere, in a doctor’s waiting room, or a supermarket checkout line, you’ve seen the headlines of Cosmopolitan magazine.

But, as luck would have it as an employment lawyer, imagine my surprise when I saw this headline:

“He Did WHAT?! The Cosmo Guide to Surviving Sexual Harassment at Work“.

Of course, this was right below the $10 Beauty Bonanza headline, but for the sake of the blog, I was determined to get to the bottom of this.

But just then, the nurse called me back for the doctor’s appointment.  Oh well.

As luck would have it though, the articles are now online for all.  And while it would be easy to dismiss this as just “headlines”, it’s actually worth a passing read by employers. Cosmo did a survey of 2235 women on this issue and while I wouldn’t take the statistical authenticity all too seriously, the survey did have some surprising and troubling results.

I’ve read it so you don’t have to and here are the tips I’ve gleaned:

1. The women surveyed report a higher rate of harassment or sexual conduct in the workplace than you might think. 

Here are some of the findings:

  • One in three women aged 18-34 believes that they have been sexually harassed;
  • Just 29 percent of those who believe they have been harassed reported it to their employer;
  • 75 percent surveyed said it was male co-workers who sexually harassed them, though 50 percent or so report harassment by male clients or customers.

There are several takeaways from this but here are two: Harassment by co-workers is still prevalent and that a lot of it is going unreported.

2. There are ways to respond to harassment besides filing a claim.

In another article entitled “Six Ways to Respond to Sexual Harassment”, Cosmo provides some tips to its readers. Notably, the first tip is a solid one: Tell the person to stop.  And even more notably, filing a claim isn’t really listed as the best option.  Nevertheless, employers need to remind employees that they should report harassment (and must report it if, as a manager, they hear or see about it.)

3. Technology is a blessing and a curse.

Technology has been great for the workplaces. E-mail allows us to communicate better and faster, for example. But there is a dark side to it as well. The Cosmo article and survey reports 25 percent of the women who were harassed faced lewd texts or e-mails.  For employers, this is a constant reminder that your systems still need monitoring and employers ought to be reminded about what is (or is not) appropriate.

 

 

While the temperature hasn’t felt like summer in Connecticut the last few days, judging by the traffic this morning, there are lots of you on vacation this week.

If you’re one of the (un)lucky ones working this week, perhaps you have a few extra minutes to tackle some projects that have been on the back burner.

In the human resources and employment law arena, here are a few easy steps you can take this week to get yourself into compliance with some easy-to-miss employment laws.

1.  Apply for a Waiver of Weekly Pay Requirement

Connecticut requires that all employees be paid on a weekly basis.  Employers can pay employees on a bi-weekly (or sometimes, semi-monthly) basis only upon receiving approval from the Connecticut Department of Labor.  How so? According to the CTDOL:

A letter or completed request form found on our website should be sent to the Director of Wage and Workplace Standards Division describing the reason for the change and desired frequency. Most employers request a biweekly payroll for hourly employees covered by overtime requirements. A 30‐day notice is required to all affected employees.

Action: Fill out that form (or write the letter) today using this link.

2. Set up Sexual Harassment Prevention Training

Connecticut requires all employers of 50 or more employees, to provide ” two hours of training and education to all new supervisory employees of employees in the State of Connecticut within six months of their assumption of a supervisory position.”

What that really means is that most employers should be running sexual harassment prevention training for supervisors twice a year.  In reality, some employers just forget or try to wait until there’s a critical mass.

Action: Contact a provider of sexual harassment prevention training.  The CBIA offers such training on a regular basis and so does my firm, Shipman & Goodwin.  I’ll be doing one on October 2, 2014. I’d love to see you there. 

3. Make Sure Your Payroll Records are Kept Onsite … Or Seek a Waiver

Another overlooked law is the one requiring that employers keep the payroll records at the place of employment. For employers with multi-state locations, this can be a challenge.  As Connecticut states:

Under section 31‐66 of the Connecticut General Statutes, the employer shall maintain for 3 years at the place of employment a record of hours worked and wages paid to each employee. The employer can submit a request through our website or by letter to the Division and permission may be granted to keep records at another location. Out of state businesses may receive permission if the records call [Editor’s Note: “Can?”] be made available within 72 hours.

Fortunately, the Connecticut Department of Labor has a waiver form that can be easily filled out online here.

Action: Check to see where your payroll records are kept. If necessary, seek a waiver from Connecticut Department of Labor.

Just because it’s the Dog Days of Summer doesn’t mean you can’t get anything done. Get to it.

I’ve long since preached about the need for ongoing sexual harassment prevention training.

My new firm, Shipman & Goodwin LLP has a series of trainings scheduled that should hopefully fit your schedule if you or your employees have a need for such training.

The next one is scheduled for August 27th in Hartford from 7:45-10a.  Full details are available here. 

The cost is just $50 per person and each person who attends will receive a certificate upon completion.

If you’re interested in signing up, you can register here.  And if you’re going, please don’t hesitate to introduce yourself to me personally.  Its being led by one of my capable colleagues.  See you then.

With every new law that gets passed, it’s easy to overlook the existing requirements that employers must follow.

After all, if employers are just tracking the new laws down without first nailing down compliance with “older” ones, then they are leaving themselves just as vulnerable to potential claims.

One area that is easy to overlook is sexual harassment prevention, particularly in Connecticut. Indeed, some employers believe that simply adopting a policy is all that is required.

And they would be wrong.

So, it’s time to go back to the basics and make sure you’ve hit the checklist when it comes to sexual harassment prevention in Connecticut.  Here are some things to consider: Continue Reading Back to the Basics on Sexual Harassment Prevention

In light of the horrific workplace shootings in Connecticut earlier this month, I’ve heard people wonder about various steps an employer can take in anticipation of a termination meeting. One question raised is whether it is ever appropriate to have the police nearby or available during a termination meeting.  Or, alternatively, can you have security escort the fired employee from the premises. 

Interestingly enough, the Connecticut Supreme Court has chimed in on this subject in some cases before.

In 1997, the Court in Parsons v. United Technologies Corp., held that "it is not patently unreasonable for an employer to remove a discharged employee from its premises under a security escort."  In so ruling, the court rejected a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim by the employee that the termination was so unreasonable as to warrant a claim for damages.

Similarly, in 2000, the Court in Appleton v. Board of Education, found that being escorted out of the building by police (after being called by the employer) was also not enough to raise a claim against the employer.  

Both of those cases cite a notable District Court case out of South Carolina, Toth v. Square D. Co., which also rejected a claim by the employees for "outrage" when the employer escorted the terminated employee out of the building in front of his peers.

That’s not to say that termination meetings are exempt from possible claims. The Connecticut Supreme Court in 2002 (Perodeau v. Hartford) explicitly said that negligent infliction of emotional distress claims in the workplace can still arise out of a termination meeting. Thus, if the meeting is held in such a way as to be deemed to be "outrageous", it could subject the employer to liability.  But it is rate that a fired employee can actually make a legitimate claim.

What are the lessons to take away from these cases?

  • First, don’t overreact. Most cases do not warrant having security on the premises. 
  • But, in some rare circumstances, having a police officer present on the premises during a termination meeting may be warranted. (Most police departments will offer to have an officer sit in the parking lot if asked by the employer.) 
  • If the employer is truly concerned, it may also be allowable to have a security officer or even police nearby or outside the room ready to escort the employee out immediately upon termination.

These situations require a deft touch and particularized legal advice to ensure that the meetings don’t turn into a circus.

The headlines of the week nationally have certainly surrounded sexual harassment allegations both old and new.  (Note: Due to my firm’s involvement in one of those cases, I will not be blogging on it). 

But with the issue back in the forefront, I’ve been surprised lately in my discussions by how some small to mid-size employers are overlooking the basics in Connecticut.   Do they believe that such conduct just doesn’t exist anymore or do they believe that their employees "know it all" about the subject? While claims of sex discrimination filed with the EEOC are down nearly 10 percentt from their peak in 2002, the numbers hardly show such a pronounced drop off that would indicate we’ve "solved’ the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace.  Indeed over 20,000 complaints were still filed with the EEOC as of 2006.

What do I mean by the basics? In Connecticut, its training and posting.  These requirements are found in the administrative regulations , Conn. Regs 46a-54-200 et seq. set up by the CHRO regarding sexual harassment prevention. 

  • For posting: All employers who have 3 or more employees must notices that say sexual harassment is illegal and address what the remedies are for such harassment.  The regulations all spell out in specifics that the notices must contain certain elements. Fortunately, the CHRO has also prepared a model poster that complies with the statute and is available for free download

Of course, there are other laws as well that require postings to be set up.  Rather than address each law separately, consider using a company that specializes in such posters, like G.Neil. 

  • For training: The training requirements only apply to employers who have 50 or more employees and apply only to supervisory employees.  (This does not mean that employers who have less than 50 should NOT provide the training; instead, it means that they are not required to conduct such training.) 

Specifically, within 6 months of a new supervisor being hired or an employee being promoted to a supervisory position, the employee must receive at least two hours of training.  The format of the training is fairly rigid; according to the regulations:

Such training and education shall be conducted in a classroom-like setting, using clear and understandable language and in a format that allows participants to ask questions and receive answers.

Since that time, the CHRO has indicated, in an informal opinion, that some e-learning training may satisfy this requirement.  Regardless, the training must also include discussion of six discrete topics such as what the state and federal laws say, what types of conduct could be considered sexual harassment, and discussing strategies for preventing such harassment.

Here the kicker: The regulations suggest (but do not mandate) that such training be updated for ALL supervisory employees every three years.   What does this mean? It means that if an employer wants to project an image that it has a strong policy against sexual harassment, it should follow this advisory regulation to show that it is doing above and beyond what is required.

The regulations also suggest (but do not mandate) that records be kept of the training. Again, the regulations suggest a course of action that employers would be wise to follow.

Certainly, the workplace has changed in the 16 years since the issues surrounding Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Professor Anita Hill became so widely publicized. But for employers in Connecticut, sustained vigilance is needed to make sure these changes and the progress that has been made, stick.