Connecticut Employment Law Blog

Insight on Labor & Employment Developments for Connecticut Businesses

If You Do Any Hiring, New I-9 Forms Must be Used Effective January 2017

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

So did everyone enjoy Thanksgiving? I’m still recovering from my vacation so in the meantime, my colleagues, Brenda Eckert and Ashley Mendoza, return today with a post about updated I-9 forms that all employers MUST start using in January 2017.  If you do any hiring, this post ought to be front and center to fulfill your obligations. 

eckertashleymendoza1On November 14, 2016, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) published a revised version of Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification (“Form I-9”).  This isn’t the first time it has done so but a new set of revisions means more changes for employers.

Established by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (“IRCA”), Form I-9 is used to verify the identity and employment authorization of all individuals, including U.S. citizens, hired for employment in the United States. All U.S. employers, regardless of size, must ensure proper completion and retention of Form I-9 for each new employee hired after November 6, 1986.

Beginning on January 22, 2017, employers must only use the revised Form I-9 version dated November 14, 2016. USCIS has allowed a grace period through January 21, 2017 when employers may continue to use the Form I-9 version dated March 8, 2013.  Both the revised Form I-9 and the prior version may be found on USCIS’ website.

Generally, the revisions made to Form I-9 were designed to make it more user-friendly, to reduce errors and to enhance form completion using a computer. Some of the most notable changes include:

  • Informational prompts are included on the form;
  • Employees only need to provide “other last names used” in Section 1, Employee Information and Attestation, rather than all “other names used”;
  • The employee certification in Section 1 is streamlined for certain foreign nationals;
  • There is an addendum page to enter multiple preparers and translators, when applicable; and
  • In Section 2, Employer or Authorized Representative Review and Verification, there is a dedicated area to enter additional information that employers have previously been required to notate in the margins of the form.

Further enhancements were made to the Form I-9 that will appear when completing it electronically on a computer. Users will see:

  • Checks to certain fields to ensure information is entered correctly;
  • Drop-down lists and calendars;
  • Instructions on the screen that users can access to complete each field; and
  • Buttons that will allow users to access the instructions electronically, print the form, and clear the form to start over.

The Form I-9 instructions have been updated to include a field-by-field guide to completion, and to address common issues that arise during completion. The revised instructions have also been separated into a distinct document from the revised Form I-9, in line with USCIS’ general practice.

While USCIS has indicated it will soon issue a revised M-274, Handbook for Employers, Guidance for Completing Form I-9, it has yet to do so. In the meantime, USCIS refers users to the revised Form I-9 instructions, found on its website for the most up-to-date information.

Notably, the list of acceptable documents that the employee may present in order to establish identity and employment authorization remains the same. 

While the Form I-9 may seem relatively straightforward to employers, its completion can be complex and the rules surrounding it constantly evolve, which leads to large fines and other penalties for not completing and retaining the forms correctly.

For this reason, we recommend reaching out to an experienced immigration attorney when questions arise regarding the Form I-9.

From the Archives: Back to the Basics on Sexual Harassment Prevention

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

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.

BREAKING: Judge Orders Halt to New Overtime Rule

Posted in Featured, Highlight, Laws and Regulations, Wage & Hour

I have this running joke with my wife that anytime I’m on vacation, it seems that big employment news breaks.

And this vacation is no exception.

And it’s probably the biggest employment law news this year. Not the best time for me to have to write a blog post on my phone.  Ah well.  You all will forgive any typos.

Last night, a Texas judge issued a nationwide injunction barring implementation of the new overtime rule that was scheduled to go into effect December 1.

The judge stated:

The parties dispute the scope of the injunction. The State Plaintiffs seek to apply the injunction nationwide. Defendants contend a nationwide injunction is inappropriate. Instead, Defendants suggest the injunction should be limited to the states that showed evidence of irreparable harm. Absent contrary intent from Congress, federal courts have the power to issue injunctions in cases where they have jurisdiction. It is established that “the scope of injunctive relief is dictated by the extent of the violation established, not by the geographical extent of the plaintiff class.” A nationwide injunction is proper in this case. The Final Rule is applicable to all states. Consequently, the scope of the alleged irreparable injury extends nationwide. A nationwide injunction protects both employees and employers from being subject to different EAP exemptions based on location.

I had hinted last Friday that this was a long shot lawsuit but this year we’ve seen more than our fair share of long shots coming true (Cubs anyone?).

It’s possible that this may be appealed but that seems unlikely with a new President set to take office in less than two months.  Rather it seems more likely that the rule is now on hold…perhaps permanently.

In any event, employers that haven’t implemented the plan yet do not need to do so now. The ones that have may wish to roll back any changes (but with caution).  And talk to your local employment attorney.

I’ll have more upon my return next week.

 

From the Archives: The Basics of Agriculture’s Exemption to Wage/Hour Laws

Posted in Human Resources (HR) Compliance, Laws and Regulations

Continuing a look back at some “basics” posts you might have missed, back in 2009, I tackled an exemption that may be overlooked when it comes to employment laws.  

Connecticut has a proud history of farms. Many, like Lyman Orchards, have been passed down for many generations. (And if you’ve never visited Lyman Orchards, don’t miss out on their Corn Maze and apple orchards. I visited it recently and highly recommend stopping by.)

For many of these farms, the growing season is short, which is why some of the wage & hour rules for farms are a bit different.  Indeed, overtime rules in Connecticut specifically do not apply to “agricultural” employees.  (Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 31-76i(k) is the specific provision if you’re looking for it.)

But what exactly is “agriculture”?

Turns out, it’s probably much broader than you think.  In fact, you have to look elsewhere in the statutes for thatdefinition.  It is found in the very first statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-1(q), which states, in part:

[T]he words “agriculture” and “farming” shall include cultivation of the soil, dairying, forestry, raising or harvesting any agricultural or horticultural commodity, including the raising, shearing, feeding, caring for, training and management of livestock, including horses, bees, poultry, fur-bearing animals and wildlife, and the raising or harvesting of oysters, clams, mussels, other molluscan shellfish or fish; the operation, management, conservation, improvement or maintenance of a farm and its buildings, tools and equipment, or salvaging timber or cleared land of brush or other debris left by a storm, as an incident to such farming operations; the production or harvesting of maple syrup or maple sugar, or any agricultural commodity, including lumber, as an incident to ordinary farming operations or the harvesting of mushrooms, the hatching of poultry, or the construction, operation or maintenance of ditches, canals, reservoirs or waterways used exclusively for farming purposes; handling, planting, drying, packing, packaging, processing, freezing, grading, storing or delivering to storage or to market, or to a carrier for transportation to market, or for direct sale any agricultural or horticultural commodity as an incident to ordinary farming operations, or, in the case of fruits and vegetables, as an incident to the preparation of such fruits or vegetables for market or for direct sale.

So, under this broad definition, everyone from horse breeders, to maple sugar houses (you know about places like the Lamothe Sugar House, right?) to those who freeze blueberries from local farms, are exempt from paying workers overtime.

Thus, whenever agriculture is implicated in your business, be sure to see if the overtime rules actually apply to your workers.

From the Archives: The Basics of Bereavement Leaves in Connecticut

Posted in Human Resources (HR) Compliance

As I noted last week, I’m taking a few days off from the blog. In the meantime, I’m going to be re-running a few posts from my “Basics” series way back in 2008-9 that you might have missed. I hope you find them helpful.

During the summer last year, I started a weekly series of posts about various “basics” of employment law, with a particular focus on Connecticut.

I had planned to start it again this week on a different topic, but in driving into work this morning after a meeting, I was struck by what I saw and inspired to write this post.

While stopped at an intersection, on the far corner was a group of college-aged kids all dressed in suits in black. It took me a moment to realize that in the otherwise barren sidewalk in the heat of the summer sun, they were carrying a casket.

It was a surreal scene. In the midst of all the bustle of a busy street, there were 8 people carrying a casket for a friend or relative in solemn fashion.  They were stoic and yet the sadness was easily seen on their faces.

Death and funerals are a way of life, and they become all the more common with each passing year.  They happen with such frequency that it takes a moment like the one above to sometimes wake you from their routine occurrence.

So what are the rules that employers must follow when it comes to bereavement leave?  For the most part, there aren’t any.  You won’t find the topic on Connecticut DOL’s wage and workplace standards pages.

While FMLA leave is designed to provide leave to care for a family member (particularly in the end stages of life), an immediate death may not qualify and it does not seem to cover attending funerals.  Indeed, do a search for “death” or “funeral” in the Connecticut FMLA regulations and your searches will come up empty.  Thus, employers have crafted their own set of rules.

In looking back over this blog, I realized I hadn’t covered this much other than in one of my very first posts back in September 2007.  In that piece, I discussed several issues that employers may want to consider.

  1. Are your bereavement policies are established? If so, are they non-discriminatory?
  2. What practices do you have to help the grieving worker communicate with colleagues? And do you have a employee assistance program that you can refer employees to?
  3. How can you help co-workers express their sympathy, particularly if the loss is actually in the workplace?
  4. How do you help the bereaved employee and his or her supervisor deal with any lingering productivity issues?

None of this is easy.  Usually, for immediate family members, many employers will provide employees two-three days off with pay, and no pay for any additional time, unless employees arrange to use personal days or vacation time. How you define “immediate family member” is up to the particular employer, but make sure that it takes into account the changes that have been made in Connecticut for same-sex marriages.

The Best Laid Plans on Overtime, Or, When “Stuff” Happens

Posted in Human Resources (HR) Compliance, Laws and Regulations, Wage & Hour

I had a lot of plans this week to do another deep dive into an employment law issue but then, well, let’s just say life happens.

Among the things? Lots of questions from clients about the new overtime rules.  While everyone has had months to plan, there are definitely a few procrastinators out there.

But this may (and I emphasize and underline MAY) work out to those procrastinator’s advantage.   Reports this week are that a Texas court is considering issuing an injunction that would stop the overtime rule in its tracks.  The court has indicated that it will consider the matter by November 22nd. And moreover, even if it doesn’t issue an injunction on that date, it will consider the entirety of the case by 11:59:59p on November 30th.

While I still think the lawsuit may be a reach, it doesn’t seem as far fetched as it did a few weeks ago. Earlier this week, a similar Texas court issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the implementation of the so-called “Persuader Rule” from the NLRB.  Government overreach seems to be a theme in Texas.

What should this mean for employers? Well, I still think planning is very much in order. But if employers haven’t yet flipped the switch on their plans, they may want to hold out for a few more days to see if this Texas case leads to anything.

Why? Because once you raise an employee’s salary, for example, it’d be very hard to roll it back.

So procrastinators take heart! Maybe, just maybe, your tardiness will pay off.

But I still wouldn’t count on it.

Author’s note: I will be proverbially “going fishing” for a few days, so don’t expect any late breaking posts until after Thanksgiving here.  I’ll be posting a few “From the Archives” posts in the interim.

Employers May Seek More Than Just a “Doctor’s Note” For FMLA Certification

Posted in Highlight, Human Resources (HR) Compliance, Laws and Regulations, Manager & HR Pro’s Resource Center

depressOver the years, one of my favorite employment law blogs has been Jeff Nowak’s FMLA Insights.  He really takes a deep dive into the subject and I’ve had the opportunity over the years to exchange ideas with Jeff.

Recently, he alerted me to a new federal court decision in Connecticut that may have a significant impact for employers struggling with FMLA claims.

Rather than duplicate his post, I’m going to suggest reading it now.

The TL;DR note is that the issue he tackles is whether an employer can ask for more information from a medical specialist rather than some vague notes from the primary care physician filling out a FMLA certification form.  In some circumstances, the answer is now “yes”.

The case, Bento v. City of Milford, can be downloaded here.

The court was asked to look at two issues:

First on the initial FMLA certification — was the employer justified in asking for more specific information from a specialist? The court said that because the physician referenced a review from a psychologist, the employer was justified in following up with the specialist to clear up confusion that the physician’s notes brought up.

Second, when the employee wanted to come back to work, the employer was justified in delaying her return to get a more specific fitness for duty certification.  As Jeff notes: A fitness-for-duty certification can seek two things: “1) Confirm that the employee is able to resume work; and 2)Specifically address the employee’s ability to perform the essential functions of the employee’s job.”  A vague note that the employee could return to work was not enough, the court said.

Rather “the employer has the right to insist that the health care provider review the job description for the position and confirm that the employee can perform those job duties.”

 

The decision is a big win for employers in Connecticut who struggle with FMLA notes that are vague and gives some teeth to the notion that employers can push back.  This is particularly true, I sense, in situations where employees provide a note that they need leave for “job stress”.  Employers — in consulting with employment counsel — should consider seeking more information in response to ambiguity when it comes to FMLA certifications or return to work notes.

I thank Jeff for his tip to this important case.

Employers, Employees and Reasonable Accommodations: A Webinar

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

file9281249337561Tomorrow, I’ll be part of a webinar produced by the American Bar Association on reasonable accommodations under the ADA.  You can still sign up here.

The topic page for the webinar gives a fairly concise summary:

A reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions. Leave can be a reasonable accommodation if it does not constitute an undue hardship on the employer. Our panel of experts will discuss what obligations employers have to provide leave as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, in light of recent case law and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s May 2016 guidance.

The other speakers on the panel are terrific. Lori Ecker is a Plaintiff’s attorney from Chicago; we’ve worked together in the past on ABA issues and she’ll bring a valuable perspective.  Shannon Rennert is a senior staff attorney with the EEOC who has been on top of these issues for years, even issuing letters on the subject.    Janine Martin moderates.

Among the particulars that we will discuss are such tricky topics such as “maximum leave” policies, and unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation.  I hope you’ll join us.

What a Trump Victory May Mean for Employers and Employment Law

Posted in Highlight, Labor Law & NLRB, Laws and Regulations, Legislative Developments

trumpphotoThere haven’t been a lot of stories about what Donald Trump would do as President when it comes to employment law issues. In part, that was due to the polls. But it was also due in part to the lack of policy details that his campaign put out on his website.  Back in September, I lamented the fact that we weren’t getting to hear any debate on those issues.

So, the news this morning that Donald Trump has been elected President is coming with a bit of scrambling.  What does it mean for employers in Connecticut? What’s going to happen with employment laws and enforcement?

The truth is that we really don’t know at this point.  The fact that the House, Senate and President will all be led by Republicans is something that is going to throw the whole system for a loop.

So, here are a few things to keep an eye on over the upcoming months when it comes to employment law issues:

  • As I noted last month, the new overtime regulations are set to be implemented on December 1, 2016.  Will a lame-duck Congress try to block those rules from being implemented? And if they are still implemented, will a Trump adminstration seek to roll those back? That would be a challenge.  Suffice to say for employers, this added uncertainty is a real headache. Until you hear otherwise, employers should continue to implement these changes.
  • One thing that seems clearer: The NLRB’s moves over the last few years will come to a screeching halt once the Board’s makeup is changed. The NLRB, for better or worse, always seems to change with each Presidency.  A Trump Presidency will no doubt bring changes back; this may impact everything from graduate assistants being able to unionize, the quickie election rules. Everything is in play.
  • For those wondering, the Board has two seats open now; along with the existing Republican member, that would give the Trump presidency a pretty quick majority.
  • The EEOC’s strategic plans will now be called into question as well. In recent years, it has taken aggressive litigation approaches on sexual orientation and gender identity issues. Will those tactics be abandoned? Where will the enforcement priorities lead to? Again, don’t expect big changes overnight but over time, this is definitely something to watch.
  • And do not underestimate the impact that a Trump Presidency will have on the federal court system.  He will now be appointing far different judges that we’ve seen over the last eight years — both at the U.S. Supreme Court and at lower court levels.  This will have a long-term effect on employment discrimination cases which are often heard in the federal courts in Connecticut.  As a result, we may continue to see more cases being brought in Connecticut state courts.
  • Let’s not forget that Trump also suggested a six-week paid maternity leave program.  Will we see Congress pick this issue up? Stay tuned too.  

For Connecticut employers, lost in the headlines of a Trump presidency is the fact that Republicans seem to have gained an unprecedented 18-18 split in the State Senate. This could potentially put the brakes on legislation the next two years on issues like non-competes or expanded paid leave.  It’s too early to tell but this is something we’ll be looking into as well.

But for all the uncertainty out there, remember this: Many of our federal laws are unlikely to change.  ADA, FMLA, Title VII are all fairly hearty laws that share widespread support.  The changes that may come are all things around the edges — things like enforcement approaches, guidances, etc.

For employers, it’s best to keep a close eye on the developments for employment law. It’s going to be an interesting couple of years.

What Not to Do: Tips from the Ultimate Office Holiday Party Movie Trailer

Posted in Human Resources (HR) Compliance

I don’t know about you but the news lately has been awfully serious lately.  Thus, on this Friday before Election Day, let me share something a bit lighter.

So last night, I started watching a few popcorn movie trailers to get my mind off things while finishing up some work.  Sure, there was Star Wars: Rogue One (which I’m going to see — probably twice) and Wonder Woman (likely to see).

But then I came across this, a new trailer for an upcoming movie Office Christmas Party (caution, it’s a little NSFW for language):

(Sadly?) My first instinct was to go — this is going to be a train wreck for employment law issues. But like any good train wreck, I watched anyway.  Because when the motto of a movie is “Party Like Your Job Depends on It”, really, I felt needed to sacrifice for my esteemed blog readers.

And let’s just say — this looks like an epic employment law disaster.  You’ve got employees sledding down stairs only to crash — just a worker’s compensation claim or two there.  You’ve got inappropriate dancing — obviously a sex harassment case in there somewhere.  There’s slip and slides on ice…in the office — clearly an OSHA violation.  And an employee who has apparently stolen some reindeer — a violation of the personnel handbook for sure.

Needless to say, it looked entirely inappropriate for an office setting.

Thankfully, it’s just a movie.  But with stores now having made the changeover from Halloween to Christmas (what happened to Thanksgiving?), it seemed an appropriate reminder to review your office holiday party protocols.  I’ve covered it in many posts like this one.

As for whether I’ll actually see “Office Christmas Party” in the theater, truthfully the odds are I’ll probably see Sing with my kids first.

I only counted one employment law issue in that trailer.