GA2Today is the last day of the Connecticut General Assembly regular session.  So it’s a good time to take a look at some of the bills pending or passed.  Strangely, things seem pretty quiet on the employment law front.  But after the dust settles, I’ll have another update. Here is where we stand as of early this morning (Wednesday).

  • Last night, the Senate approved of the measure (House Bill 6668) expanding protections in the workplace for workers who are pregnant.  It was previously passed by the House.   I’ve covered the bill in depth before but it now goes on to the Governor for his signature.  The bill, if signed, would become effective October 1, 2017.
  • The House also passed a measure last night (H.B. 6907) that exempts certain professional drivers from coverage under the state’s unemployment law.. The exemption applies to drivers under a contract with another party if the driver meets certain conditions. The measure moves to the Senate but given the backlog of bills today, final passage is definitely unclear.
  • The Senate last night passed a measure (H.B. 7132) that streamlines procedures for filing workers compensation claims.  Currently, the law generally requires private-sector employees seeking workers’ compensation benefits to submit a written notice of claim for compensation to either a workers’ compensation commissioner or their employer’s last known residence or place of business. This bill requires private-sector employees who mail the notice to their employer to do so by certified mail. It also allows employers, except the state and municipalities, to post a copy of where employees must send the notice (presumably a specific address). The posting must be in a workplace location where other labor law posters required by the labor department are prominently displayed.  Under the bill, employers who opt to post such an address must also forward it to the Workers’ Compensation Commission, which must post the address on its website. Employers are responsible for verifying that the information posted at the workplace location is consistent with the information posted on the commission’s website.By law, within 28 days after receiving an employee’s written notice of claim, an employer must either (1) file a notice contesting liability with the compensation commissioner or (2) begin paying workers’ compensation benefits to the injured employee (and retain the ability to contest the claim for up to a year). Employers who do neither of these within 28 days of receiving the notice are conclusively presumed to have accepted the claim’s compensability. Under the bill, if an employer posts an address where employees must send a notice of claim, the countdown to the 28-day deadline begins on the date that the employer receives the notice at the posted address.The bill now moves to the Governor for his review and approval.
  • The General Assembly is also continuing to review a possible Paid Family and Medical Leave insurance scheme.  This bill (S.B. 1) is definitely one to watch over the next day and over any special session as well.
  • Senate Bill 929 would expand whistleblower protections under 31-51m. It has passed the Senate and is awaiting a vote in the House.  Existing law prohibits employers from discharging, disciplining, or otherwise penalizing an employee for certain whistleblowing activities, including reporting suspected illegal conduct to a public body.  This bill additionally prohibits employers from taking such actions against an employee for objecting or refusing to participate in an activity that the employee reasonably believes is illegal. Specifically, it applies to such beliefs about violations or suspected violations of state or federal laws or regulations, municipal ordinances or regulations, or court orders. The bill also (1) extends the time an employee has to file such a lawsuit and (2) adds to the possible remedies available to employees, including punitive damages in certain circumstances.

That seems to be it so far. A lot can change though today and employers should continue to be mindful of the shifting landscape. Even bills that appear “mostly dead” sometimes come back to life at the end — and particularly in special session as well. So stay tuned.

abahod1As I have for over a decade now, I attended the American Bar Association’s Annual Meeting last week serving on the ABA’s House of Delegates – the organization’s main governing body.  My exact position is actually State Delegate — a position that nominally makes the lead delegate of Connecticut’s delegation, though in practice it’s much more democratic than that.

Among the items up for deliberation was a change to the model rules of professional conduct — the set of guidelines advanced by the ABA that are used as guides to set ethics rules in various states.

We considered a change to Model Rule 8.4 that would make it an ethical violation for a lawyer to discriminate or harass on the basis of various protected categories.  You can watch the debate here. 

The actual proposed rule went through several iterations as it was debated before the meeting.  The rule that was voted on changed the language to better match other rules by making it a violation to engage in conduct that the lawyer “knows or reasonably should know” is harassment or discrimination.

One of the issues, for example, that was discussed was whether the addition of a protected category of “socioeconomic status”.  In fact, during one of our caucuses, I asked one of the sponsors about the inclusion of this language. While he said that there was some mild disagreement about its inclusion, he noted that various states had already included it and pointed to an Indiana ethics matter from 2009 where it was used the basis for a grievance. He said to remove it now could send the wrong message.

Ultimately, the matter was approved nearly unanimously on a voice vote as any opposition to it melted away.

The model rule has a number of comments attached to it, the most interesting of which is that “The substantive law of antidiscrimination and anti-harassment statutes and case law may guide application of [the new model rule].”  On its face, that seems to suggest that caselaw in employment discrimination cases can help provide guidance — though there still remain open questions about how that might apply in a non-employment context.

But from my perspective, the rule is a step in the right direction.  Lawyers behaving badly — such as to opposing counsel — have no place in our profession and this new rule can hopefully make it clear that such behavior will not be tolerated.

IMG_7496 (2)Did you enjoy the fireworks last week?

I’m not talking about the real Independence Day fireworks; rather, it’s a new Second Circuit decision that should have employment lawyers popping this morning.

For a while, we’ve been talking about interns.  Indeed, back in 2013, I talked about how a wage/hour case involving interns on the movie “Black Swan” had the potential to change how employers use interns.

In that case, a federal district court judge essentially adopted a six-factor test used by the U.S. Department of Labor to determine if an intern was really an employee.

Flash forward to last Thursday.  In somewhat of a surprise, the Second Circuit — which covers cases in Connecticut — reversed that federal district court court’s decision and rejected the DOL’s six-factor approach.

In its place, the court adopted what Jon Hyman properly termed, a “more flexible and nuanced primary-benefit test.”

[T]he proper question is whether the intern or the employer is the primary beneficiary of the relationship. The primary beneficiary test has two salient features. First, it focuses on what the intern receives in exchange for his work.… Second, it also accords courts the flexibility to examine the economic reality as it exists between the intern and the employer.…

In the context of unpaid internships we think a non‐exhaustive set of considerations should include:

1. The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee—and vice versa.

2. The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands‐on training provided by educational institutions.

3. The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit.

4. The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.

5. The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.

6. The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.

7. The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.…

Continue Reading DOL’s Internship Test Rejected by Second Circuit Creating Conflict with New Connecticut Law

Malloy Signs Intern Anti-Discrimination Bill
Malloy Signs Intern Anti-Discrimination Bill

Capitol Watch — The Hartford Courant’s political site – tweeted the following yesterday:

And a review of the Governor’s website reflects that approval in the bill notification release. (I read them so you don’t have to!)

So, what does that mean for employers? Well, I’ve covered the bill before so I won’t recap everything here.

But the bill’s provisions now become effective October 1, 2015.  Thus, employers who regularly use interns should update their employee handbook and anti-harassment provisions to explicitly cover interns.

One of the other things to consider that hasn’t been discussed much is the extent to which the bill’s definition of “intern” may get adopted in the context of establishing whether an intern is really an “employee” for wage/hour purposes.

What do I mean? Well, back in 2012, I talked a lot about how employers could properly structure internship programs. In that post, I noted that there were six factors that the U.S. Department of Labor would look at:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Now, let’s compare this with the definition of “Intern” in the new anti-discrimination bill.  An intern is defined as an “individual who performs work for an employer for the purpose of training, provided”:

  1. the employer is not committed to hire the individual performing the work at the conclusion of the training period;
  2. the employer and the individual performing the work agree that the individual performing the work is not entitled to wages for the work performed; and
  3. the work performed:
    1. supplements training given in an educational environment that may enhance the employability of the individual,
    2. provides experience for the benefit of the individual,
    3. does not displace any employee of the employer,
    4. is performed under the supervision of the employer or an employee of the employer, and
    5. provides no immediate advantage to the employer providing the training and may occasionally impede the operations of the employer.

If you track each item carefully, you’ll notice that they are actually fairly similar. That’s a good thing.  While there are subtle differences, it’s unlikely that those differences will be meaningful in their application.

As a practical matter, that means employers that adopt the defintiion of “intern” in the new state statute are likely to be following the federal interpretation as well, reducing the risk of a wage/hour claim as well.

The bottom line, however, is that employers who just use interns without much worry as to the liability that using interns may create should rethink their practices. The new law is yet another area where new rules will make using those interns may expose employers to possible claims.  Is it a small risk? Perhaps. But small risks can turn into big ones if employers aren’t mindful.

Over the past month, after the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, much has been made in the press about how it is unprecedented for the court to consider a company’s religious beliefs in making its decisions.

The issue of taking into account a corporation’s religious belief in the workplace has been also catapulted to the center of the discussion regarding consideration of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill which would prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation on a federal level.

Some are now asking that ENDA, if passed, have an exception for religious organizations.  In response, a number of prominent civil rights groups have withdrawn their support for the bill.

A joint statement issued by several organizations, including the ACLU, said the following:

ENDA’s discriminatory provision, unprecedented in federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, could provide religiously affiliated organizations – including hospitals, nursing homes and universities – a blank check to engage in workplace discrimination against LGBT people. The provision essentially says that anti-LGBT discrimination is different – more acceptable and legitimate – than discrimination against individuals based on their race or sex.

Here’s the thing, rightly or wrongly, the notion of a religious exemption in an employment discrimination law isn’t unprecedented; Connecticut passed one 23 years ago.

And it hasn’t been amended since.

I can now hear from many of you: Wait, what?

Yes, right there in Conn. Gen. Stat. Section 46a-81p is a specific exemption for religious corporations to the prohibition of sexual orientation employment discrimination.

The provisions of sections 4a-60a and 46a-81a to 46a-81o, inclusive, shall not apply to a religious corporation, entity, association, educational institution or society with respect to the employment of individuals to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, entity, association, educational institution or society of its activities, or with respect to matters of discipline, faith, internal organization or ecclesiastical rule, custom or law which are established by such corporation, entity, association, educational institution or society.

Now, before you start reading “religious corporation” to include companies like Hobby Lobby, the answer may not be that simple.

For one thing, the sexual orientation anti-discrimination laws don’t define what they are explicitly; elsewhere in state law there is a reference however, to “religious corporations” and societies.  Conn. Gen. Stat. § 33-264a states that: “Three or more persons uniting for public worship may form a corporation or a voluntary association. Such a corporation shall be called a religious corporation and such a voluntary association shall be called a religious society.”

So perhaps including a company like a Hobby Lobby into this definition may not fit.

But what IS meant by “religious corporations” in this particular section on employment law? How do courts define it? Is it just a church or something more, like an organization’s for-profit bookstore? Well, I haven’t located a court case that has confronted the issue head on.

The Connecticut Supreme Court has only cited the statute by off-handed refereces that the legislature made an exemption for “religious organizations.”  But that too is a bit odd, because the word “organizations” isn’t in the statute itself. (See, for example, the court’s use in Patino v. Birken Manufacturing.)

I’ve taken a look at the bill analysis from the Office of Legislative Research from its passage in 1991 and it isn’t all that helpful. It states merely that “the bill exempts religious organizations from these employment provisions but only as to their employment of people to carry out their work.” (There’s that use of “organizations” again.)  An earlier version of the bill had a narrower exemption too, but that was expanded through a bill amendment at the time.

The Connecticut legislature has considered amendments, over time, that would, for example, put the sexual orientation anti-discrimination laws into the more general provisions prohibiting discrimination, but even this year’s Senate Bill 385, which would make that type of change, would keep the language of the “religious corporation” exemption as is.

I suppose that the lack of litigation on the state’s law exempting “religious corporations” from compliance with the anti-discrimination law may be indicative of its general acceptance here in Connecticut or its narrow application. And perhaps a court looking at this will find that for-profit corporations are just inherently different than religious ones and that the use of the language here precludes a broader interpretation.

But I suspect that the lack of discussion of this exemption is also due to the fact that many people are unaware of its existence or the specific language of the exemption either.

Either way, in light of the Hobby Lobby decision from the Supreme Court, perhaps we will see the Connecticut General Assembly revisit this statute. While an exemption for a “religious corporation” may have been a necessary compromise in 1991 at the time of the bill’s original passage, I wonder if legislators believe it should be construed as broadly as some might argue after Hobby Lobby.

After all, if corporations are “people” too, it’s not that far of a leap for someone to argue that they can be “religious corporations” as well.

This is shaping up to be an interesting year for the Connecticut General Assembly.  The budget forecasts are projecting massive deficits.  As a result, I would not be surprised to see the budget debates dominating the agenda of the Connecticut legislature.

Nevertheless, other bills will still be proposed, debated, and certainly  passed during the several months that the Connecticut legislature is in session.  Advocates for a transgender anti-discrimination bill believe this is finally the year for passage oCopyright 2008, Daniel A. Schwartzf such a bill. 

According to this morning’s Courant:

Transgender activists believe this is the year they will gain equal protection under the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

"We feel good," said Jerimarie Liesegang, who leads the Connecticut TransAdvocacy Coalition. "We’ve done the groundwork, we’ve done the education and we know we have the votes."

A proposal, to be introduced in the legislative session that begins Wednesday, would prevent people who in any way blur gender lines from being discriminated against in the workplace or while seeking housing or obtaining credit. More than a dozen states, including California, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon and Rhode Island, have enacted similar laws.

Bills that bar discrimination based on gender identity or expression have come up several times over the past few years, but failed to win passage. In 2007, both the judiciary committee and the Senate approved such a bill, but it died in the House of Representatives.
 

I’ve previously discussed this proposal in various posts here.  Although same-sex marriages were legalized last year by the Connecticut Supreme Court, the legislature didn’t pass the concept earlier.  Thus, I think the transgender/gender identity bill still faces some more hurdles because the concept remains foreign to many people.  (You can educate yourself with some useful materials from the Connecticut TransAdvocacy Coalition) Some raise issues of who gets to use the restroom in the workplace (and when), but these probably can be worked out if people spent some time addressing it.

Because the bill died in the House of Representative last year and with the legislative facing huge issues of how to fix the budget, I have a tough time believing that legislative leaders will want to use political capital pushing this bill, no matter how noble they believe the cause is.  The votes may be there, but the energy may not.

For employers in Connecticut that have an gender identity-related issue arise in their employment, seek some legal counsel. Just because it may not be illegal to discriminate, doesn’t mean the employer can’t work out a sensible solution to some issues (or that other legal issues may not be implicated).  Indeed, some employers in Connecticut have their own anti-discrimination pledges that cover gender identity as a protected class.