GA2Yesterday, the Connecticut House of Representatives voted to pass legislation that would promote pay equity among men and women. However, the bill lacks a key provision that would have barred prospective employers from inquiring into an applicant’s salary history.

The CT Mirror and Hartford Business Journal do a good job reporting on the developments. The bill would:

  • “Ban employers from using a worker’s previously earned wages as a defense against a charge of pay inequity;
  • Protect employees from losing seniority based on time spent on maternity or other family or medical leave;
  • Strengthen the requirement that employers provide “comparable” pay for workers performing similar duties;
  • Clarify the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities’ ability to investigate complaints of discrimination when wages are involved.”

The Senate remains split along party lines, but the changes made to the bill make passage much more likely now.

The bill, House Bill 5591, can be downloaded here.

It’s unclear how much of an impact the bill will have. For example, the bill changes Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-75 that bars discrimination for work performed under “comparable” working conditions. Previously, the standard was “similar”.

But even the Office of Legislative Research was skeptical about this change noting “It is unclear whether this change has any legal effect.” After all, one definition of comparable is “(of a person or thing) able to be likened to another; similar”.

Moreover, many employers do not base pay on a “seniority system” but instead focus on merit instead. Thus, any changes to the statute on the “seniority system” will have minimal impact.

In any event, before employers act, it’s wise to wait to see what happens in the Senate. Any changes to the law would be effective October 1, 2017.  

 

 

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.

generalassemblyPayroll cards are finally here.

The General Assembly finished their regular session last night with several employment law bills getting passed, including some that have been kicking around for years.

One of them is Senate Bill 211, which authorizes employers to use payroll cards — instead of checks or direct deposit — to pay their employees.

But there are a number of conditions that must be met before this happens and there are a number of restrictions as well.  The bill will become effective October 1, 2016 — assuming the governor signs the measure, which is expected.

The Office of Legislative Research has done a thorough recap, which I’ll liberally borrow from here.

In order to use the card, an employee must “voluntarily and expressly authorize, in writing or electronically, that he or she wishes to be paid with a card without any intimidation, coercion, or fear of discharge or reprisal from the employer. No employer can require payment through a card as a condition of employment or for receiving any benefits or other type of remuneration.”

In addition, as noted by the OLR report:

  1. employers must give employees the option to be paid by check or through direct deposit,
  2. the card must be associated with an ATM network that ensures the availability of a substantial number of in-network ATMs in the state,
  3. employees must be able to make at least three free withdrawals per pay period, and
  4. none of the employer’s costs for using payroll cards can be passed on to employees.

Under the bill, a “payroll card” is a stored value card (similar to a bank account debit card) or other device, but not a gift certificate, that allows an employee to access wages from a payroll card account. The employee can choose to redeem it at multiple unaffiliated merchants or service providers, bank branches, or ATMs. A “payroll card account” is a bank or credit union account (1) established through an employer to transfer an employee’s wages, salary, or other compensation (pay); (2) accessed through a payroll card; and (3) subject to federal consumer protection regulations on electronic fund transfers.

Another big change, according to the OLR report: The bill also allows employers, regardless of how they pay their employees, to provide them with an electronic record of their hours worked, gross earnings, deductions, and net earnings (i.e., pay stub). To do so, the (1) employee must explicitly consent; (2) employer must provide a way for the employee to access and print the record securely, privately, and conveniently; and (3) employer must incorporate reasonable safeguards to protect the confidentiality of the employee’s personal information.

Lastly, current law allows employers to pay employees through direct deposit only on an employee’s written request. The bill allows an employee’s request for direct deposit to also be an electronic request.

An amendment, which also passed, (1) changes the timeframe in which an employer must switch an employee from a payroll card to direct deposit or check; (2) specifies that the limit on fees or interest charged for the first two declined transactions each month applies to calendar months; and (3) requires the cards to be associated with ATM networks that ensure, rather than assure, the availability of in-network ATMs in the state.

Overall, this is a big boost for both employers and employees.  The CBIA had supported the measure and it had received “cautious” support from the AFL-CIO as well.

cgaOver the next week or so, I’ll be providing updates on various bills to pass (or fail) at the state general assembly.  They’re coming in fast and furious so patience is the order of the day.

But as we review various bills, there are employment-related aspects in places that you might not think. The first of these is in a human trafficking bill (House Bill 5621).  After passage in the House last month, this bill passed the state Senate last night. It now moves to the Governor’s office for his signature.

Section 5 of the bill sets forth new requirements for hotel (and similar lodging) operators to train and educate their employees.

Specifically, it requires that the employees receive training at the time of hire on the “(1) recognition of potential victims of human trafficking, and (2) activities commonly associated with human trafficking.”

But in addition to training, the hotel operator shall also conduct “ongoing awareness campaigns” for employees on the “activities commonly associated with human trafficking.”

Of course, the legislation is silent as to what exactly are the “activities commonly associated with human trafficking”, though prostitution is obviously mentioned in one aspect of the legislation.  It is unclear how detailed this training and the awareness campaign must be.

Beyond that, on or before October 1, 2017, and annually thereafter, hotel operators must “certify that each employee of any such establishment has received the training prescribed by this section in each employee’s personnel file.”

But again, it does not appear that this training needs to occur yearly — only at the time of hire — and only that the hotel operator certify that the training happened at the time of hire.  So the bill has a gap; current employees do not appear to need to be trained in this. And the employer must only conduct “awareness campaigns” which perhaps can be as simple as an email reminder or inclusion in employee handbooks.

In any event, hotel operators should consider updating their hiring packages to include this aspect and should update their employee handbooks to have a provision in there.

Upon signature from the Governor (which is expected), this provision becomes effective October 1, 2016.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention the efforts of both the Connecticut Bar and the American Bar Associations on raising awareness and seeking legislation on this important issue.   Members of the CBA testified at the legislature on this bill and its passage last night was an end product of their efforts.

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.

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.

In one of my very first posts way back in 2007, I said this:

For employment lawyers and HR professionals, it’s “old” news that overtime lawsuits are a major concern.  Business Week picks up on that trend in next week’s Cover Story entitled: “Wage Wars: Does your Boss Owe You Overtime”.

According to the article:

No one tracks precise figures, but lawyers on both sides estimate that over the last few years companies have collectively paid out more than $1 billion annually to resolve these claims, which are usually brought on behalf of large groups of employees.

Yes, you read that right. A BILLION dollars.

Since that time, the numbers of lawsuits have only increased.  Indeed, during the 2013-2014 year, a record 8126 federal wage & hour cases were filed. That is up over 436 percent since 2000.

The attorneys’ fees and the existing potential for additional damages have long been a large incentive for attorneys representing employees to bring these claims.

Heck, fellow blogger and Connecticut lawyer Richard Hayber alone lists 18 class action claims on his site for people to get involved with (you’re welcome, Rick.).

And yet, for some reason, the Connecticut General Assembly thinks that this is somehow an underrepresented area of litigation.

Why do I make that conclusion? Because last week, the Labor & Public Employee Committee approved of a bill (Raised Bill 914)  that would mandate double damages in cases of a failure to pay overtime wages unless the employer could prove that it had a “good faith belief” in its underpayment.

Let’s be clear: That good faith belief standard — which isn’t defined in the bill — would be a very high hurdle to clear.  And it would make settlement of cases much more expensive.

For that reason, the CBIA has opposed the bill stating it “discourages employers from ever being able to challenge employee wage claims, because the only possible results would be to pay double damages if wrong on the claim or pay high legal costs to be proved right.”

Whatever the legislative intention, this is yet another bill in search of a problem.  Indeed, if anything, the wage & hour lawsuit craze is booming right now.  Passage of the bill would only create additional incentives for litigation.

There’s still a long way to go in this legislative session, but bills like these are giving employers in Connecticut a good deal of heartburn.

capitoldasAs the legislative session continues to roll around, sometimes you can get caught up in bills that have no chance of getting passed.

For example, the General Assembly — as presented structured — will never pass a bill making Connecticut a Right to Work state.

But when the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities makes proposals to the legislature, it’s worth taking a closer look at their proposals.  Why? Because sometimes (though not always), their proposals get adopted.

Two significant proposals, which are being being floated through the Judiciary Committee, not the Labor & Public Employee Committee are as follows:

The CHRO has also proposed language that would impact employers less than the others.

These proposals are still in their formative stages; you won’t find them in the bill record book yet or on the CBIA bill tracker site.

But it’s important for employers and their counsel to review them to understand what is being vetted.

So far, this legislative session is proving to be far busier than was first anticipated.   Stay tuned.

Having tackled the predictions in employment law on a federal level, what does the future hold for employers in Connecticut?

Besides a debate on Family & Medical Leave Insurance, there are a few things we’re likely to see.

1. New bills at the General Assembly: The first one comes courtesy of Mara Lee over at the Hartford Courant; with “predictable scheduling” now become a cause celebre for unions (see this article in The New York Times back in August), the co-chair of the General Assembly’s Labor Committee promises a hearing on the subject.  A bill seems still far off, but issues like this have a tendency to percolate for a bit. Expect to hear a lot more about this.

What else? I still think a bill on workplace bullying will again come up for debate.  And the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities will again push for changes to their procedures as well, according to minutes from recent CHRO meetings.  Non-compete legislation always seems to be popular too.  With a new two-year cycle starting up soon in the “long” session, it’s likely to be busier than last year.

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.

2. Clarification on Free Speech Rights for Private Employees: The Connecticut Supreme Court is set to hear arguments later this winter on whether the Connecticut Constitution offers private employees more free speech rights than the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  At issue in Trusz v. UBS is whether speech that relates to an employee’s official job duties is protected under the Connecticut Constitution; under the Schumann case from a few years ago that I was involved with, the Court found that such speech isn’t protected under federal law but left open the issue under state law.

My prediction? The court will find that such speech isn’t protected under the Connecticut Constitution.  But I should disclose that I’m not exactly an impartial observer; I am leading a team of attorneys here that filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association this fall advocating the same thing.   My more confident prediction is that the decision from the court will not be unanimous.

3. Agencies and Task Forces Take Leading Roles: There are several issues that have been “floating” out there for a while. Expect to see movement on some of them.  For example, the Domestic Workers Task Force is set to issue a report on October 1, 2015 that could set the tone for future legislation on the subject.  And on July 1, 2015, new electronic prevailing wage notices go into effect.

At the CHRO, expect to see some additional visibility from this group. With Gary Collins’ leadership at the CHRO, a long-standing backlog on cases continues to get winnowed down.  And with new leadership from Tanya Hughes, we’re seeing more public outreach through programs, newsletters and even a new blog developed by interns (and which has a nicer splash page than this one….).  And a new computer system for the agency — set to start last week — will finally bring it up speed, years after a prior system outlived its useful life.

On the flip side at the CHRO, there is little stopping the trend of the overwhelming number of cases being retained for mediation and investigation.  For employers, this means that cases filed at the agency will, on average, continue to be more expensive to defend than five years ago.

My prediction? Beyond these, I also predict that we’ll see some impact from the introduction of revised white-collar overtime rules at the federal level.  Connecticut may use those changes to revisit the rules at the state level.

2014 was a relatively quiet year in employment law overall in Connecticut. I expect a busier and buzzier year in 2015.

I’ve previously touched on a number of bills that were passed in the short legislative session that ended earlier this month but I thought I would recap the session briefly in one post.

Of course, the CBIA already did most of the work so I won’t repeat the good work and recommend the post to you first.

The minimum wage hike in Senate Bill 32 is certainly the most significant piece of legislation to come down.  It will increase as follows:

  • $9.15 per hour on January 1, 2015
  • $9.60 per hour on January 1, 2016
  • $10.10 per hour on January 1, 2017

This will also affect the minimum wage for hotel and restaurant employees with the corresponding tip credit.

  • $5.78 per hour on January 1, 2015
  • $6.07 per hour on January 1, 2016
  • $6.38 per hour on January 1, 2017.

For bartenders, the minimum wage will change to the following:

  • $7.46 per hour on January 1, 2015
  • $7.82 per hour on January 1, 2016
  • $8.23 per hour on January 1, 2017

As I noted in a prior post as well, the legislative approved fixes to the Paid Sick Leave law in House Bill 5269. You can find my recap of those changes here.

And that’s pretty much it.  There were many proposals on the table — including changes to the CHRO or banning discrimination against the unemployed — but none made it to a vote.  Given all the mandates of the prior years, employers should be enjoying this short reprieve.

With the governor’s race this fall, it’ll be very interesting to see the results of that.  If Governor Malloy is elected for a second term, employers should continue to expect a good number of bills to continue. If Tom Foley is elected, expect to see more compromise legislation.  But that’s six months away.

For now, employers can breathe a little easier knowing that they don’t have to make too many changes this year.