connecticut general assembly

If at first you succeed, try it again. 

Well, that may not be how the saying goes, but the first back-and-forth post between me and Nina Pirrotti, an employee-side attorney, was so well received that we’re back for another conversation. 

Today’s topic: What legislation are we both keeping our eyes out for at the Connecticut General Assembly?  

The Dialogue Begins

Dan Schwartz: So Nina, our first post was such a hit that I think we’re due for an encore.  Thanks for being up for this.

It has only bewn a few weeks, but it feels like we’re moving at warp speed on developments.  We could spend another post just on The Donald, sorry, Mr. President. Somehow I think we’re likely to talk about that again soon.

But let’s focus today on some of the legislative items we’re keeping an eye on, particularly in Connecticut. Each year, it seems like our General Assembly likes to roll out fresh employment law ideas.

Is there a particular bill that you’re keeping your eye on now from an employee-side perspective?

nina_t_pirrotti1-150x150Nina Pirrotti: I’m so glad you asked!   Yes, let me tell you about one bill that has been on my mind on the federal level (I am speaking about it at an ABA conference in sunny Puerto Vallarta really soon) and then I will give you a couple of highlights from our backyard.  

The federal bill that looms large for me right now (although concededly perhaps not as large as the prospect of sitting on the beach, tequila based beverage in hand) is the misleadingly named  Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (“LARA”) which would force judges to respond to Rule 11 motions in a particular manner. 

Rule 11 allows for the possibility of sanctions to be imposed on attorneys or parties who submit (or later advocate for) pleadings which have been filed for an improper purpose or which contain frivolous arguments or claims. 

While Rule 11 motions rear their ugly heads relatively rarely in litigation, a newly invigorated Republican majority in Congress has proposed LARA which would amend the sanctions provisions in Rule 11 to remove all judicial discretion – – regardless of the circumstances of the individual case- – in two critical respects. 

First it would require the court to sanction any attorney, law firm, or party who violates the rule.  Second it forces judges who find the rule has been violated to order the offending party to pay  the other party’s attorneys’ fees and costs.  Those in my world who oppose LARA say that there is no proof Rule 11 is not working in its current form, that the changes would burden the courts and that  its “once size fits all” mandatory sanctions would unfairly penalize employees in civil lawsuits.

Closer to home, two bills come to mind.  The first is a proposed modification of C.G.S.A. 31-51m, a statute which bars employers from retaliating against employees who report  employers’ unethical or legal wrongdoings to public bodies. 

The modification seeks to  protect employees who complain about such conduct internally or who refuse to participate in an activity they believe to be in violation of the law.   It also seeks to extend the timeline to bring an action under the law (employees now have only 90 days to file) and to provide for a greater array of damages if the employer violates the statute.

The second is a proposal to provide eligible employees with paid Family and Medical Leave Act leave.  The proposed legislation would require employees to contribute 1/2 of 1% of their wages to it (there would be no employer contribution) and employees cannot opt out it.   

We plaintiff employment lawyers would welcome both pieces of legislation as long overdue and reasonably tailored to protect Connecticut’s workforce.

What are your thoughts from the other side of the aisle, Dan?    Or is there other proposed legislation that has captured your attention?

Continue Reading The Dialogue: What Legislation We’re Keeping Our Eyes On

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.

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 oft-debated paid sick leave bill has made another appearance at the legislature. And as in the past, it has been voted out of the committee, this time by a narrow vote of 6-5 on Thursday, March 3rd.

None of this ought to come as any surprise. It’s been voted out of committee for the last four years. And as predicted last November, Governor Malloy’s support for the measure suggested that the bill would at least see some debate.

But it’s not as though there is smooth sailing ahead. The Hartford Courant ran an editorial on Thursday calling the bill bad for business. And even supporters believe at best it could pass after a Senate tie of 18-18 (which would be broken by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman).  That of course, assumes that both parties have the stomach to bring the measure to the floor for debate.

Senate Bill 913 (which can be viewed here) has a few notable points to it:

  • It would only apply to employers who have 50 or more employees;
  • Employees could accrue and use up to 40 hours of paid sick leave time each year (5 days worth);
  • Employees could carryover up to 40 hours each year, but could still only use the allotted amount;
  • An employer that already provides employees with vacation, personal days, or paid time off of at least 40 hours will be "deemed to be in compliance".
  • Employees would be able to take paid sick leave for various medical reasons or when the employee is a victim of family violence or sexual assault.

The CBIA has been lobbying hard against the measure; its issue sheet can be found here.   The complaints about the bill are that it ignores business needs, disregards economic realities, and misdirects efforts at an issue that is smaller than it thought.

It’s still unclear whether the votes will be there in the General Assembly, but one thing is for sure: We haven’t heard the last of paid sick leave.  

A few months ago, it looked like we could see a variety of bills passed relating to labor & employment law in the Connecticut General Assembly.

With the legislature scheduled to conclude business on May 5, 2010, though, its still mostly quiet on the labor & employment law area.

According to the Labor Committee’s Bill Record book, only three raised bills in the House have passed a vote (a bill implementing recommendations of joint misclassification task force, and two bills relating to workers compensation)  The Senate has yet to pass any such bills

All of the other bills have yet to see or pass a vote.

Will we see action on a few bills before the end of the session? Perhaps. The Paid Sick Leave bill is still very close to having enough votes to pass both chambers.  But the bill regarding background checks seems to have lost some steam

Overall, though, it looks to be a quieter season in the legislature when it comes labor and employment law. 

With 2009 winding down, it seems like a good time to reflect on what transpired during the last legislative session and look forward to the 2010 short session of the Connecticut General Assembly.

Fortunately, the CHRO has prepared a detailed summary of the 2009 session, with recaps of particular measures that were passed (or defeated).  As I’ve noted before, there were a number of laws passed that relate to labor and employment law matters in Connecticut.

You can download the 24-page recap here.  The summary is particularly helpful because it is filled with links to the relevant documents.

The Connecticut Labor & Public Employees Committee is now scheduled to hold a hearing on various labor bills of relevance and importance to employers in Connecticut. Some are re-hashes of bills raised last year, but others, including amendments to the state’s FMLA laws are new.  The hearing is scheduled for February 5, at 2 p.m. at the Legislative Office Building, Room 2-E.

Here are some of the bills scheduled to be discussed (the full list is available here):

 

So what’s going to happen after the election with various employment law proposals? Well, you’ll have to wait for the election to really see what happen at a federal level.  After all, part of it still depends on who is elected to the White House and how many seats the Democrats control in Congress. 

(If you’re really curious, I’ll be putting on a breakfast roundtable at my firm with my partners Peg Sheahan and Bob Mitchell on November 11, 2008 at our offices. More information about the program is available here.)

But in Connecticut, there are several issues that made an appearance in the General Assembly that are likely to be revisited.  This will be particularly true if the Democrats can pick up a few seats and push their majorities to "veto-proof" levels, meaning they can override any veto by Governor Rell.

I’ve also heard that a proposal to move some of the states’ hearing officers or human rights referees under a central "administrative hearing officer" umbrella may get a look at.  The CHRO also has an agenda of items that it will seek legislative approval of. Its’ recap from 2008 is available here. 

With all of the focus that the media has on the Presidential race, It’s easy to forget that the elections next month will be critical to setting legislative agendas in Connecticut that may have a far greater impact on Connecticut businesses than the national races.