Connecticut Employment Law Blog

Insight on Labor & Employment Developments for Connecticut Businesses

Connecticut Legislative Session Preview: Is a New State Overtime Rule In Play?

Posted in Highlight, Legislative Developments, Wage & Hour

capitoldasThe Connecticut General Assembly is back in session and with significant budget deficits looming, it’s not going to be an easy year for legislators.

From a labor and employment law session, once again it will be interesting to see what will be seriously considered.

A Bloomberg Law article late last week suggested that Democrats in several states, including Connecticut, are planning bills to try to replicate the federal overtime-pay overhaul that has been held up in federal court.   Without citing names, the article states:

Democrats in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, Wisconsin and Michigan said they plan to introduce bills modeled on Obama’s reform, which would have made millions more white-collar workers eligible for overtime.

A cursory look at the Bill Record book for the Labor & Public Employees committee fails to show such a bill yet, but it’s still early. At this point in the legislative cycle, only early “proposed” bills are officially on record. That, of course, doesn’t mean that other draft bills aren’t being floated out there.

So among the proposed bills, what else is out there being considered for 2017?

  • As expected, a paid family & medical leave bill is definitely on the table now, after being looked at for the last 18 months or so.  Indeed, it is titled “Proposed Senate Bill No. 1″ and is co-sponsored by several senators.  Having a bill marked as “One” indicates that this will be a priority in the current session.  The details, however, are still being worked on.
  • Another bill that already has garnered widespread support including from the House leadership is Proposed House Bill 5591.   While again, the details are still forthcoming, the bill would “require employers, including the state and political subdivisions, to provide equal pay to employees in the same workplace who perform comparable duties.”  What’s still unknown is why this is being sought, just 2 years after another pay equity bill titled “An Act on Pay Equity and Fairness” was passed. Time will tell, but expect to see more on this bill soon.
  • Another bill concerning “Various Pay Equity and Fairness Matters” (not to be confused with prior bills) has also been proposed by new Representative Derek Slap from West Hartford.  That bill would mirror some other states that have recently passed bills further limiting what prospective employers can ask applicants. Specifically, this Proposed House Bill 5210 would:

(1) Prohibit employers from asking a prospective employee’s wage and salary history before an employment offer with compensation has been negotiated, provided prospective employees may volunteer information on their wage and salary history,

(2) Prohibit employers from using an employee’s previous wage or salary history as a defense in an equal pay lawsuit,

(3) Permit an employer to have an affirmative defense in an equal pay lawsuit if it can demonstrate that, within three years prior to commencement of the lawsuit, the employer completed a good faith self-evaluation of its pay practices and can demonstrate that reasonable progress has been made towards eliminating gender-based wage differentials, and

(4) Protect seniority pay differentials from adverse adjustments for time spent on leave due to pregnancy-related conditions or protected parental, family and medical leave.

Other proposed bills can be found here including an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

One important note: The state Senate has now split 18-18 among Democrats and Republicans.  Thus, I think it’s fair to expect that there will be less laws that impact employers than in year’s past.  The CBIA has an update from a business perspective here.

Phishing Scam Targets HR Professionals By Seeking W-2s

Posted in Data Privacy, Human Resources (HR) Compliance

robertsWith the new year upon us, cyberthieves are once again attempting to prey on unwitting HR professionals, as my colleague William Roberts explained in an article last week for SHRM on phishing.

The scam goes like this. As an HR professional, you get an e-mail from your boss (or your boss’s boss) that seems legitimate…and urgent. Something like this:

I’m in the middle of a negotiation so won’t be available by cell or e-mail but I need you to send W-2s for the management team to our new accountants. You can e-mail them to [____________]. Needs to be done today. Sorry for the rush on this and please take this as an exception to normal protocol. Thanks. – Alan

It’s happened before.  Indeed, as Bill explained in the article:

“Alan was the chief financial officer,” said William J. Roberts, a Hartford, Conn.-based data privacy attorney with the law firm Shipman & Goodwin LLP. But in this case, it wasn’t Alan who was sending the e-mail. Despite the company’s policy prohibiting employees from sending sensitive documents through e-mail, a newly hired junior HR professional fell for the phishing scam and sent the W-2s to the cyberthief’s e-mail address.

That’s more than just an “Oops” moment.

Although the IRS is taking steps to help reduce this, the best defense is for HR professionals to be aware of this scam.  I previously discussed this back in March 2016 with a quick post but it’s worth looking at some of the tips presented in the SHRM article including:

  • Train employees on cybersecurity awareness. Many companies do not.
  • Use common sense and avoid making electronic requests for sensitive data. It’s not just an e-mail threat; phishing by text is also on the rise….
  • If you receive an e-mail from upper management, verify the request….

Protecting Confidential Information from Untrustworthy Employees

Posted in Data Privacy, Highlight, Human Resources (HR) Compliance, Manager & HR Pro’s Resource Center

starrMy colleague Gary Starr returns today with a story worth reading about the need for employers to secure confidential information.  Although it is based on Massachusetts, the concepts it covers may have some carryover to employers elsewhere as well.  

Employers that maintain records of their employees and customers and allow employees have access to confidential information have long needed policies that not only secure the information, but ensure that employees who have been granted access to such information are complying with the corporate policies and are trustworthy.

An insurance agency in Massachusetts thought it had done everything right, but was sued for negligence in its retention of an employee that it thought was trustworthy, but was not.

An employee used her computer to access confidential information that she then gave to her boyfriend about the identity of a witness to a car accident in which the boyfriend had been involved with her car.  The boyfriend used that information to contact and threaten the witness.  The witness reported the threat to the police and ultimately the boyfriend and the employee pleaded guilty to witness intimidation and conspiracy.  After the police visited the employer to obtain information about the threat, which was traced back to the employee, the employer fired the employee.

That, however, did not end the tale.

The witness then sued the employer for failing to safeguard personal information, and for negligent retention and negligent supervision.  While the trial court dismissed the case, the appellate court has determined that the facts alleged are sufficient to go to trial.

Where did the employer go wrong?  The company had adopted a data security plan and policy that prohibited employees from accessing or using personal information for personal purposes.  The computer software even required employees, who wished to access the data base with confidential information, to agree to use the information for one of four limited purposes, all of which were business related.

Those were positive steps.

The problem arose because the unrestricted access did not stop the employee from reviewing information that had an impact on her personally.  The second failure had to do with an inadequate investigation of the employee’s background and simply taking the employees word about a weapons arrest that occurred during her employment in another state.

The employee told her boss that the arrest was a misunderstanding, that she was clearing it up, and subsequently said it was resolved.  The employer simply took her word for it.

What he would have discovered with a very simple inquiry was that there were serious issues with her honesty and fitness for accessing other people’s personal information.  The company could have learned that she was traveling with her boyfriend when they were stopped for speeding and that she was arrested for having two semi-automatic guns concealed in her purse, one had the serial numbers filed off and the other was stolen.  She also had a half-mask and police scanner.  After her arrest, she told the company that there had been a misunderstanding as the weapons belonged to her boyfriend, that she didn’t know anything about them and that she was exonerated.

Her story was not true, but her account itself should have raised questions about her having access to personal information.

The court said that the company had a duty to protect the confidential information and that it was foreseeable that the employee could access information and use it for personal gain.  The company had an obligation to investigate the employee’s continuing fitness after the arrest.  The court said that a jury could decide that the failure to take action under these circumstances was unreasonable as the company knew about the weapons charge and could have learned of her lies and her willingness to commit a crime with her boyfriend.  The company did not take sufficient steps to limit the risk of harm to those whose personal information its employees could access.

There are steps to take to avoid this problem.  After an employee is hired, that does not end the need to be vigilant about their fitness for the job.  When information comes to light that may raise questions about the actions of an employee, an employer cannot simply take his/her word for what occurred.  It must take affirmative steps to explore what the underlying issue is, analyze the employee’s story, and assess the risk the employee poses if access to confidential information is abused or if other employees and the public may be put at risk.

 

Punitive Damages Not Available For State Employment Discrimination Claims

Posted in CHRO & EEOC, Discrimination & Harassment, Highlight, Laws and Regulations, Litigation
Connecticut Supreme Court

Connecticut Supreme Court

In a decision that will be officially released next week, the Connecticut Supreme Court has, at last, ruled that punitive damages are not an available remedy for state law employment discrimination claims.

You may recall that I discussed the Appellate Court’s decision that had originally found the same thing back in 2015.  The case, Tomick v. United Parcel Services, has been one I’ve also discussed in other places too.

The decision itself is one for the lawyers to get. The court was more interested in dealing with issues of “statutory construction over which [the court] exercise[s] plenary review.”

So, the court started with the statute itself. It states that a court “may grant a complainant… such legal and equitable relief which it deems appropriate including, but not limited to, temporary or permanent injunctive relief, attorney’s fees and court costs… ”

Notably, the court says that this language could be considered ambiguous, so the court had to dig a little deeper.  Ultimately, the court says that “To construe this language as encompassing punitive damages without expressly stating as much, as the plaintiff advocates, would be inconsistent with our approach to the statutory construction in [a prior case], in which we required, at least as a default rule, express statutory authorization for statutory punitive damages as a form of relief.”

From there, it’s a fairly easy path forward for the court.  It notes that the legislature used the term “punitive damages” in other human rights statutes, so it knew how to craft such language and remedies.  For example, public accommodation discrimination has punitive damages as a possible remedy.

Ultimately, the court says it is not for it to read punitive damages into the statute.

But it suggests one final avenue: The General Assembly.  “Had the legislature intended for § 46a-104 to provide for statutory punitive damages, it could have amended the state statute to reflect the changes to its federal counterpart, and remains free to do so.”

However, given the split in the state senate and other pressing state business, it seems unlikely we’ll see this change for a while.

What does this mean for employers? Well, it means that state law discrimination claims became worth a little less than they used to — though the Appellate Court’s decision had been factored in for a while now.  It doesn’t mean that such claims are dead — but it does mean that employees bringing claims will have one more reason to try to pursue the claim in federal court, than state court.

 

Looking Back and Ahead to Employment Law in 2017

Posted in Highlight, Legislative Developments

targetFor many years, I’ve used my first post each year to look back and ahead at the area of employment law.  My record of predictions has been about what you would expect someone predicting the future — about average.

Last year at this time, I said a few things though that seem to resonate with me including this:

That said, it feels like we’re in a period where employment law issues are being tweaked rather than rewritten.  There hasn’t been a new federal law on employment law in many years, for example.  And at the state legislature, you wonder how much more laws can be put in place on employment law before employers say “enough”.  (See, e.g., General Electric.)

Instead, what we are seeing and will likely continue to see are new rules being promulgated at the agency level — such the decision from the NLRB last week regarding recordings in the workplace.  Even the new white-collar overtime regulations may have less of an impact in Connecticut than some fear.

Thus, for 2016, I don’t think we’ll see as much as some predict.

So far pretty good. Even the white-collar exemptions got placed on hold, so there’s been no impact in Connecticut.

But I went on with this kicker:

Then again, let’s just check back in again in a year. There will be a new President and perhaps a change of political parties.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about predictions, it’s that the future is never exactly what we think it will be.

Not bad, though I’m not sure there were many predicting both a Trump administration with Republican majorities in Congress to boot.

And so, 2017 is going to be different. Very different it seems.  The USDOL nominee is an outgoing fast-food company CEO for starters.  He’ll bring a management perspective far different than the current administration.

The biggest change we’ll see will come from the appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.  Expect the appointees to be management-friendly and roll back several decisions and rulings from the NLRB.  Those decisions, however, may take some time to work through however.

Federal increases to minimum wage or federal legislation on things like paid sick leave or employment law protection based on gender identity or sexual orientation also seem unlikely.

What happens at the U.S. Supreme Court is still up in the air as well, though don’t be surprised to see a return of a union dues or “agency fees” case.

What will happen at the state level? Stay tuned.

Happy Holidays!

Posted in Uncategorized

I don’t know about you, but this year end has been crazy and the blog posts have dwindled a bit.

So rather than putting together a few haphazard posts, I’m just going to call it a year and we’ll start it over again in a week or so.

There’ll be lots to talk about in the new year.

In previous years, I’ve pulled out my crystal ball with a few predictions. Something tells me though that 2017 is going to be a lot like 2009 — lots of legislation out of DC and a lot of back-and-forth.

But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. For now, I’m going to dust off my mom’s excellent latke recipe and enjoy some great donuts as well for Hanukkah. Then on to the New Year.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays and I hope you all have a very Happy New Year.

— Dan

General Assembly Committee Releases Report Critical of CHRO Complaint Processing

Posted in CHRO & EEOC, Highlight, Human Resources (HR) Compliance, Legislative Developments

chro99Last week, the Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee released a 129-page report on the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, with a focus on Discrimination Complaint Processing.  You can download it here.

The report is worth a deep dive at another time, and a final report from the Committee is due in January 2017.

Fortunately, for those of us that prefer the “Executive Summary” there is also a key staff findings sheet that recaps the main findings.

Many of these are not a real surprise given my observations and others on the CHRO over this past year.

But still, there are a number of items worth consideration:

  • Additional data collection and reporting are needed — noting that information to fully track performance is lacking in some instances and the CHRO has not fulfilled its reporting requirements in recent years.
  • Budget and staffing resources have generally decreased — noting that investigative staff within regions was at a six-year low as of July 1, 2016.
  • Written policies and procedures are outdated — noting that the manual for processing complaints was developed in the 1990s.
  • The workload of all units processing cases is not fully accounted for in overall performance — noting that the commission’s Legal Division is not required to report in its entire performance.

As a result, staff has listed several recommendations:

  • Address data limitations
  • Begin reporting on the performance of all units for greater accountability
  • Focus on meeting statutory case processing timeframes
  • Develop uniform case processing procedures
  • Make technical changes to the housing statutes to separate out the housing discrimination complaint process from the non-housing process

There are additional recommendations as well.  Overall, the report is another useful tool to help update the CHRO, as I discussed in a post earlier this month.  I’ll try to take a deeper look into the report in an upcoming report, but the report itself is worth a read for those who deal with the agency on a frequent basis.

Deep Dive Into CHRO Case Statistics Show Increases in “Harassment” Claims

Posted in CHRO & EEOC, Discrimination & Harassment, Highlight, Human Resources (HR) Compliance

zombieAs I did last year, after I posted on the general statistics of the CHRO to see if we could glean any trends, I took a deeper dive into what the statistics this year show.  And there were definitely a few surprises.

Obviously, at the risk of repeating yesterday’s post, FY 2015-2016 was a very big year for employment claims.

But because less employees are being fired or laid off (unemployment in Connecticut is at moderately low levels and the newest national figures this morning show just a 4.6 percent unemployment rate) than in a recession, what gives?

Well, if you look at the “discharge” claims — that is, the claim that “I was fired because of discrimination” — there was a modest increase in those claims to 1216 in FY 2016, up from 1174 in FY 2015.  But still, discharge claims are down from their historical peaks in 2003, when there were 1385 such claims.

But the bigger increase continues to be in the “terms and conditions” area.

That is, employees who claim that they are being discriminated against in the “terms and conditions” of their employment when it comes to things like hiring, promotions and pay.

It could also mean an employer is not approving leaves, or granting breaks or any other term or condition of employment, however small.

In 2003, there were 411 such claims filed.  In 2014, there were 782.  By FY 2016, however, that number has skyrocketed to 1056!  That’s a 35 percent increase in just the last two years.

In my mind, that likely means that more current employees are bringing discrimination claims against their employers.

This is bolstered by a look at the “harassment” statistics. Notably, I’m not talking about sexual harassment claims, which continue to trend noticeably downward.  Just 135 such claims were filed in FY 2016, down from 185 the prior year and the lowest number by far in the 15+ years of available data.  

Instead, this is a catch all claim for “I’m harassed” because of some other reason.  Just 175 such claims were filed in 2003, though that number was up to 380 in 2014.  For FY 2016, that number is up to 545.

That’s a more than 210% increase in over a decade!

Retaliation claims are also up again — an increase from 753 to 776. Though, it should be noted, that rise is a bit slower than the past few years.

What’s the takeaway?

As I noted last year, you may be looking for claims in the wrong spot.  Dismissal claims are up modestly but “harassment” and “terms and conditions” claims continue to see the biggest increases.

Thus, managing your current employees and getting legal counsel involved to help advise you, may be more helpful to keeping such claims to a minimum than just talking with counsel exclusively about terminations.

Regardless, employers should continue to be mindful that the trend of increased discrimination claims in Connecticut shows no signs of slowing down.

 

New Statistics From CHRO Show Continued Rise in Discrimination Complaints

Posted in CHRO & EEOC, Discrimination & Harassment, Highlight

numbersAt this week’s CHRO information session, I was able to review the new statistics released by the CHRO this fall regarding case filings and dismissals.

They’ve now been posted live on the CHRO’s website here.

It’s something I’ve covered each year and I’m always fascinated by what these statistics show — and don’t show.

What’s the big takeaway this year?

The trend of increasing numbers of discrimination complaints being filed that we have seen in Connecticut since 2012 (when just 1838 complaints were filed) is showing no signs of abating.

Indeed, in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, 2616 complaints were filed, up from 2482 the year before.  Thus from FY 2012 to FY 2016, that’s a huge 42 percent increase in the number of claims filed.

Now, not all complaints with the CHRO are employment-related.

But as with prior years, that number has been going up as well.

For FY 2016, there were 2160 such complaints filed, up from 2017 last year, and up from 1559 four years ago.  Again, that’s a 39 percent increase in employment-related claims filed over the last four years!

I’ve noted this in prior years but these increases are head-scratchers.  Normally, in an improving economy, claims go down.  While the Connecticut economy hasn’t been growing a lot, it is still somewhat stable.  

Moreover, such increases are counter to the national trends which have seen the numbers of claims filed with the EEOC decrease from their peaks in 2010, 2011 and 2012.    (Though I should note that in FY 2015, the EEOC did see a slight increase — but the numbers are still down 10 percent from their peaks early this decade.)

I speculated at this week’s informational session that it could be that more claims are being filed because it’s easier than ever to pass the Case Assessment Review stage and try to get something at a mediation.  Those at the CHRO challenged that argument but no one at the meeting had a good idea of what could be causing the rise.

Regardless, employers who have been sensing that more complaints than ever are being filed aren’t far off the mark.

I’ll take a deeper dive into the statistics in tomorrow’s post.

CHRO Acknowledges Faults with Case Assessment Review Process But A Fix May Be Hard

Posted in CHRO & EEOC, Highlight, Human Resources (HR) Compliance

chro99Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit on a panel discussion sponsored by the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. Charles Krich, a Principal Attorney, also spoke and it was moderated by Deputy Director Cheryl Sharp.

The purpose of the discussion, before dozens of practitioners in the state, was to look at the state of affairs at the CHRO.  More specifically, though, we spent a good deal of time addressing the Case Assessment Review and Early Legal Intervention processes.

As I noted at the presentation itself, the CHRO is to be commended to having such open sessions and being responsive to suggestions and criticisms offered by me and others.

There were several items of note from the meeting itself:

  • The CHRO’s resources continue to be severely tested. Krich mentioned afterwards that the staffing levels are down to just 66 people, across all the offices.  That’s down nearly 50 percent from years ago.  Positions are not being filled when people retire.  Presently, two Regional Manager positions are being filled on an interim basis by Krich and Sharp, which even they acknowledged is less than ideal.
  • That said, the CHRO is still keeping its backlog of cases a historically low levels, so the CHRO is doing better at doing more with less.
  • Nevertheless, Krich noted that they are looking at Case Assessment Review process because it is not working as intended. Previously, too many cases were knocked out at Merit Assessment Review, Krich said; now the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction.  A fix, though, isn’t easy.
  • One of the problems, Krich noted, is that those who are required to do the Case Assessment Review are not equipped to apply the standards evenly.  As a result, it is easier to just send the cases through to mediation and investigation, than to knock them out.
  • Krich himself has now started to review the Case Assessment Reviews in the Bridgeport region the last two months and believes that more cases are not passing CAR as a result.  He is able to apply some consistency to the approach there.
  • Krich said that employers should consider submitting more information in the answer process itself which he believes can be helpful in getting more cases dismissed. I pointed out that employers have resisted that of late because, it seems no matter how much information is submitted, the cases still get retained for investigation.
  • One “safety valve” that Krich believes should be used by parties more, however, is the Early Legal Intervention.  That allows the legal department to review complaints (typically after a mediation) and figure out the best course of action for a complaint.
  • I had asked what the statistics, though, were on Early Legal Intervention and I was surprised by the results. Krich indicated that over the last three months (since September 1, 2016), there were 69 cases that had gone through that.  Of that, 3 were sent directly to public hearing and 31 cases were returned for investigation. But of the remainder, 20 were given a release of jurisdiction and 15 more were tagged with a “no reasonable cause” finding.  That allows the CHRO to focus its resources on less cases.
  • Thus, for employers and the attorneys who represent them, it may be worth exploring Early Legal Intervention more.  The risk of the case going directly to public hearing remains low.

During the discussion, I also brought up the CHRO’s ineffective handling of complaints that are brought on the same facts, but against different respondents — such as against the employer (for discrimination) and a supervisor (for aiding and abetting discrimination).  Currently, those cases are each processed separately and each office handles such complaints differently. In response to additional audience support for review of this, Deputy Director Sharp indicated she would review the process further.  It was a good example of what can come out meetings like this.

There was more to the two-hour presentation and discussion than can be wrapped up in a blog post, but suffice to say that it was a productive meeting.  Hopefully, more meetings like this will be scheduled in 2017 — perhaps in another location or two throughout the state so those in Fairfield County might have the benefit of attending the next ones.