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.

dcvisitLast week, as part of my work with the American Bar Association, I had the opportunity to meet with all of Connecticut’s Representatives and Senators in Washington, D.C.  Most were available in person, while I met with senior staff in a few offices.

It was a truly rewarding experience. We talked about helping to ensure that legal services funding for the poor remains available and some other items that the ABA has been pushing on a national level both for lawyers and the general public.  You can learn more about #ABADay here.

Perhaps this sounds a bit corny, but I was struck by how earnest everyone was.  In the private meetings, each indicated a strong desire to get things accomplished and asked for help in doing so.  We talked about ways that bar leaders can work with their offices to push bi-partisan legal issues.

Those visits stand in stark contrast to the prevailing wisdom that nothing is happening in Washington or that the legislators are merely interested in their next term in office.  In talking with my ABA colleagues who made similar visits to other Congressional offices, most (but unfortunately not all) felt the same way.

congressOf course, all those positive feelings can’t overcome a simple fact: Congress is getting nothing done when it comes to employment laws.  Just think about how Congress and President Bush were able to come to terms on amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act and you realize how paralyzed things have become.

Now, members of Congress hold hearings on things like the one today the changes to DOL’s proposed Persuader Rule, rather than working to pass a bill that might address some of those issues.

The Connecticut delegation isn’t immune to this either. Indeed, some of their proposals stand no likelihood of passage right now as well. Rep. Delauro has proposed the Paycheck Fairness Act which has 193 co-sponsors, but no real support among the Republican leadership.  She has also proposed the Healthy Families Act as well, though that bill has 140 co-sponsors.  Joe Courtney has sponsored a bill that would amend OSHA by expanding the law’s coverage.

But after my visit to D.C., I left knowing that there are still many people in D.C. who work on bills that receive no publicity but that can have an impact on Americans every day.

If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend visiting your representative or senator in D.C.  The offices are very accessible to the public and I have no doubt that they do listen to constituents who visit the offices personally.

My thanks to their offices for listening.

GA2So last week I provided a recap of a few of the labor & employment law bills still being kicked around the legislature.  From talking with a few folks in on the process, here are some other bills to keep an eye on (whether in this original form or as an amendment to an existing bill).

  • House Bill 5367 would reform the unemployment compensation process a bit. It makes several changes to unemployment benefits and eligibility requirements for receiving them by 1) increasing from $15 to $50 the minimum amount of weekly unemployment benefits most claimants can receive; 2) increasing from $600 to $2,000 the minimum amount most claimants must earn during their base period (the first four of the last five calendar quarters) to be eligible for benefits; and, 3) requires most claimants’ benefits to be based on their average quarterly wages during all four quarters of their base period, instead of during their two highest earning quarters.  The reforms would make Connecticut more consistent with neighboring states. The CBIA has supported this bill.
  • House Bill 5237 — the so-called “ban the box” bill — is one I’ve touched on before.  It was recently referred to the Appropriations Committee. It’s being closely watched by business interests and should be a top item for employers to track.
  • House Bill 5591 would create a Connecticut Retirement Security Authority (“authority”) to establish a program for individual retirement accounts (IRAs) for eligible private-sector employees, who are automatically enrolled in the plan unless they opt out.  The bill would apply to all private sector employers that employ at least five people each of whom was paid at least $5,000 in wages in the preceding calendar year.  There is a significant administrative cost however to this bill and in light of the state’s fiscal crisis, it seems unlikely that it will be passed this year.
  • House Bill 5402 is still kicking around too.  It would greatly expand the state’s whistleblower protection laws by expanding protection to employees who (1) make reports to their supervisors or managers (either directly or through a third party) or (2) participate in the employer’s or a public body’s investigation or similar proceeding on request of a supervisor or manager or the public body. Not surprisingly, business interest groups have been opposing this bill because it greatly expands the scope of the protection and would change time deadlines as well.

Many other bills died in committee earlier this month so at least the scope of the potential changes out there is known. How much gets passed this year will depend, at least in part, on how the state can resolve its projected deficits.  Connecticut has been seen, of late, as being anti-business (see, e.g., GE) and the governor has made it clear that he’s not in favor of additional tax hikes on businesses.

So stay tuned!

generalassemblyThe 2016 Connecticut General Assembly is about one month from ending its term so it’s a good opportunity to see what bills are still floating out there.

I’ll do a bigger recap when we get close to the end of the session but if you have any interest in the bills (and, if you’re an employer, you should), you should contact your local representative as soon as possible.

  • House Bill 5261 is an interesting one and comes in response to a crackdown by the CTDOL on the employment relationship local sports leagues have with coaches and referees — namely, by saying that such leagues are responsible for unemployment compensation.  This bill exempts coaches and referees who work for private or public athletic programs, other than public school districts, from employer-employee rules for purposes of unemployment taxes and compensation.
    Under the bill, according to the Office of Legislative Research, “as of October 1, 2016 no employer-employee relationship is deemed to exist between certain operators of organized athletic activities and certain individuals employed as coaches or referees of those organized athletic activities, except such operators and individuals can mutually agree, in writing, to enter into an employer-employee relationship.”
    The bill has made it out of the Labor Committee and is still awaiting a vote out of the Finance Committee.  For more on the bill, see this recap from the CBIA.
  • Senate Bill 40 would limit the circumstances in which most employers can check the credit of job applicants and employees. But it also broadens the circumstances in which employers can require checks of people applying for or working in positions that would give them access to museum and library collections or prescription drugs and other pharmaceuticals. The bill was voted out of the General Law Committee on April 5th and should be watched carefully.
  • Senate Bill 211 is one of those bills we’ve seen before; this would allow employers to pay employees by payroll cards, instead of by check, which could help reduce the use of predatory “paycheck loans” out there.    It too has made it out of committee and is awaiting a vote on the floor.
  • Senate Bill 221 would implement a paid family and medical leave program in the state.  It’s a complex bill but considering the publicity of such efforts in other states, this is worth a close follow.   But beyond that, this bill goes much further than has been previously reported as it would expand the existing FMLA law to cover all employers of two or more employees (down from 75) and would prohibit employers from requiring employees to use any paid time off as part of their FMLA leave.  Not surprisingly, business groups like the CBIA oppose the measure while other interest groups have showed strong support.

What else is going on? I’ll have more in an upcoming post.

generalassemblyThe Connecticut General Assembly is winding down in the next eight days, but not before some very significant legislation gets a thumbs up or down.

As discussed before, the legislature has already passed a bill expanding an employee’s online privacy interests.  That bill was signed by the governor on May 19th.  It goes into effect October 1st.

Also passed was Senate Bill 963, which adds labor history to the topics that schools are encouraged to teach.  The bill still awaits the governor’s signature.

So, what’s still alive?

  • Senate Bill 1044, which will impose a tax on certain employers who fail to pay their employees $15 per hour.  (See also House Bill 6791, which also tax certain employers in other circumstances for the same failure to pay workers $15/hour.)
  • Senate Bill 428, which would create protections for interns to be free of harassment.
  • Senate Bill 914, which would create mandatory double damages penalties for employers in wage/hour cases.
  • House Bill 6789, which would both limit and broaden the circumstances under which an employer can require an employee or job applicant to consent to a credit report request.  It has already passed the House.
  • House Bill 6850, which would afford employees more opportunities to discuss their wages, beyond what is already contemplated by federal law.

There are others too but these seem to be the most high-profile ones at the moment.

Stay tuned!

When I made predictions/wishes for 2015 at the end of last year, I offered up one on what the Connecticut General Assembly might do:

My Prediction: We’ll see a new rule or two, but with all the mandates that have been passed in the last four years, I expect there to be more bluster from politicians, but that we’ll actually see a bit less interference when all is said and done — at least for now.

There still some time left in the legislative session, but I’m getting increasingly pessimistic on this one.

generalassemblyIndeed, if anything, it seems from the bills being proposed that even more legislation is on the horizon that could take Connecticut into places no state has gone before. (Cue the Star Trek theme.)

For employers, this should be a major cause for concern. Because if you think that the amount of regulations and wage pressures that the state has been placing has been overbearing, the bills being proposed suggest that you haven’t seen anything yet.

Let’s go through some of them:

Legislation backed by labor advocates this year seeks to fine big corporations like Wal-Mart $1 per hour for each employee paid $15 per hour or less. The fiscal note estimates that about 146,710 of the 743,328 employees who work for companies with at least 500 employees would be covered under the bill. The bill would result in a revenue gain to the state of up to $152.6 million in 2016 and $305.1 million in future years.

A similar bill is up for consideration in the House, reports to the CBIA.

  • Employers have often being paying unemployment taxes that seemingly go into an abyss. Indeed, already they pay some of the highest taxes in the nation in this area.  As my colleague, Henry Zaccardi pointed out during his testimony at the legislature, reforms are needed.  But we’ve seen this before and unfortunately, it seems unlikely that such reforms will be adopted which would make the trust funds more solvent.  As he testified:

I understand the need for a safety net like a UC Trust Fund, but when it goes broke and employers are leaving the state, we need to do a better job of balancing [the methods we use to keep the safety net from breaking].

There are other bills out there too that would also push the influence of labor unions into the school curriculum as well.  Senate Bill 910 is back again, and would require schools to teach about “worker history and law, including organized labor, the collective bargaining process and existing legal protections in the workplace”.

I’ve also heard rumblings, as I’ve noted before, about a proposed bill being floated that would make substantial changes to the CHRO process.

So much for 2015 being a quiet year for employers. Will any or all of these get passed? Stay tuned. The next two months promise to be a wild ride.

Rainbow over Hartford

With the dog days of summer firmly upon us, it’s a good time to catch up on some items that you might have put aside.

One of those items is reviewing the new Connecticut laws that go into effect (mainly) later this year.

Fortunately, my colleagues have prepared a great summary of what transpired at this year’s Connecticut General Assembly.  You can download a copy for free here.

What are the key highlights?

  • Public Act 14-1 increases the minimum to wage $9.15 on that date, then to $9.60 on January 1, 2016 and finally to $10.10 on January 1, 2107. The new act does not change the “tip credit” however. The tip credit will automatically increase, raising the employer’s share of the minimum wage for hotel and wait staff from $5.69 to $5.78 in 2015; $6.07 in 2016; and, $6.38 in 2017. For bartenders the employer’s share will be $7.46 in 2015; $7.82 in 2016; and, $8.23 in 2017.
  • Public Act 14-128 changes the method for determining if a nonmanufacturing business is exempt from providing paid sick leave.
  • Public Act 14-159 allows a “sleep-time” exclusion from overtime pay requirements for certain employees employed by third-party providers, such as home care agencies, to provide “companionship services” as defined by federal regulations. In general, these regulations define “companionship services” to mean fellowship, protection, and limited care for an elderly person or person with an illness, injury, or disability.
  • Public Act 14-9 expands the types of deposits that automatically exempt up to $1,000 from bank executions against a judgment debtor’s account,to include electronic direct deposits that are readily identifiable as wages.

For more on these laws and other changes, check out the Employment Legislation summary here.

I’ve also touched on a bunch of these topics in prior posts which you can find here.

 

The Connecticut General Assembly is back at work so it’s time to take a quick peek to see what’s percolating.

2013 Legislative Session Begins

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association highlighted the “captive audience” bill as bill that is resurfacing, even though the Attorney General has previously raised doubts about the constitutionality of it.  The bill would restrict communications by the employer in general workplace meetings.  The CBIA highlighted the bill’s flaws:

The proposal usually shuts down much of what an employer can talk about with their employees in regular workplace meetings. For example, the last captive audience proposal restricted “political” discussions—with “politics” so broadly defined that almost any topic would have been considered off-limits. This would include issues critical to the effective management and operation of a business.

And under the threat of severe legal and financial penalties, an employer’s ability to communicate—particularly in opposition to the potential unionization of the workforce–would be effectively silenced.

Before this flawed concept goes any further, lawmakers should heed the attorney general’s warnings.

The Labor & Public Employee Committee at the legislature maintains a bill record bill that lists potential bills up for consideration.  As the session progresses, this list gets more refined.

Among the early “Proposed Senate Bills” under consideration:

  • Proposed Senate Bill 56, which would increase minimum wage by 75 cents in January 2014 and another 75 cents in January 2015;
  • Bills that would either eliminate or expand paid sick leave (Proposed Senate Bills 179 and 198);
  • Proposed Senate Bill 159, which would “prevent current or potential employers from requesting or requiring that employees or potential employees provide passwords to their personal accounts as a condition of their employment.”

On the House side, a few “Proposed House Bills” are starting to surface too including:

The next meeting of the Committee is set for January 29th, where these concepts — and others, including teaching about the history of the labor movement — will be discussed.  No public hearings have yet been posted publicly.

The new legislative session at the Connecticut General Assemblybegan last week and the Labor & Public Employee Committee wasted no time setting an agenda for bills for discussion in this short legislative session.

2012 Legislative Session Begins

At a committee meeting last Thursday, the Committee discussed a variety of items to be discussed and proposed as bills. 

Among the notable items that received a favorable nod to drafting:

  • An Act Concerning Discriminatory Hiring Toward the Unemployed
  • An Act Concerning State Employees and Bullying in the Workplace
  • An Act Concerning Family and Medical Leave for Certain Municipal Employees
  • An Act Concerning a Study on Changes to the Pay Frequency Laws
  • Act Allowing Employers to Pay Wages Using Payroll Cards

You can follow the Committee’s progress here.  The CBIA also provides a weekly recap of the events at the legislature here.   

After last year’s battle over paid sick leave, this session is not expected to be as bruising but as noted above, there is still plenty of things the legislature can get involved with.  In a short session, we’ll have to wait and see how much really gets done. 

If the legislature wants to do something unusual, then perhaps it can revisit my list from July 2011 of outdated employment laws that could be considered for repeal.  Of course, it’s easier to add laws than to repeal them, but hope springs eternal.

There’s been plenty written about what the impact of the federal elections will be on national legislative efforts.  While at an ABA Conference last week, various legislative initiatives concerning independent contractors and the Employee Free Choice Act were now seen as as DOA.

But in Connecticut, we elected the first Democrat as Governor in over two decades. What might that mean for employers?

Frankly with a projected budget deficit of over $3 billion (out of a total budget of $19 billion), it’s really early to make any blanket forecasts. Governor-Elect Malloy, on Colin McEnroe’s WNPR show yesterday described himself as a "fiscal conservative".  Will that translate to him refusing to support initiatives that may cost the state (or employers) more money at a time when things are cash-strapped? That’s unclear.

One legislative item that seems to be up for serious discussion, however, is mandatory paid sick leave.  Malloy has voiced his strong support for the proposal during the campaign.  Back in February, he released this statement:

Providing paid sick days to employees isn’t just the right and fair thing to do, it’s also good public policy…Connecticut has tens of thousands of employees who work in food service and healthcare. Allowing those sick workers time to recuperate benefits the entire population. Additionally, allowing workers to take time to seek early treatment also means fewer trips to the emergency room for untreated illness – saving the state money.

It’s not anti-business. It’s smart public policy, and it’s the right thing to do.”

The votes have seemed to be there in the past.  Republicans in the Connecticut General Assembly, however, will attempt to block its passage but admitted this week that they face an uphill battle in convincing the public and fellow legislators.  Expect to see this on the legislative agenda when the session starts again in early 2011.

Malloy’s website also indicates that he supports workforce training initiatives that should benefit employers and workers alike. It’ll be interesting to see what bills are developed as a result of that policy.

Other bills that could see renewed enthusiasm cover topics such as workplace bullying and gender identity discrimination. 

The upcoming legislative season promises to be among the more interesting ones we’ve seen lately. Stay tuned. 

(Photo Courtesy of 2009 Mayors’ Conference)