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.

nevermindThe Supreme Court today issued a decision in one of the most anticipated cases of the session on whether public employees could be forced to pay fees to a union that they didn’t want to belong to.

And in doing so, the court showed what happens in 4-4 splits: Nothing.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate: The court did issue a one sentence “per curiam” ruling in Freidrichs v. California Teachers Association: “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.”

And because the lower court ruling affirmed the use of these fees, public unions live to see another day.

That’s it? Yep.  We’ll have to wait until the court is back to a full contingent and hears a similar case.

It reminds me of that old routine by the glorious Gilda Radner: Never Mind!

 

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning came out with two controversial decisions that will impact employers in Connecticut.

The first one, Harris v. Quinn, dealt with whether non-union public employees could be forced to pay union dues.  The court issued a relatively narrow holding, ruling that “partial” public employees could not be required to do so.  In doing so, it made a distinction with “full-fledged” public employees.

The second one, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, dealt with whether for-profit employers could be required to provide contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The court again issued a (relatively) narrow holding, ruling that closely-held corporations (where more than 50% of stock is held by 5 or fewer individuals) can opt out of the contraceptive coverage for religious reasons.

There is going to be lots of coverage this week on the impact of these decisions generally, but I thought I would touch on a few thoughts for Connecticut employers.

First, employers shouldn’t overread the decisions. While these decisions may lay the groundwork for broader decisions from the court in the future, these decisions aren’t as broad as some reports suggest.

Second, a very interesting issue is developing about whether employers could use this decision to discrimination against employees on things like race, gender or sexual orientation based on their religious beliefs. The majority opinion takes pains to discount that notion:

The principal dissent raises the possibility that discrimination in hiring, for example on the basis of race, might be cloaked as religious practice to escape legal sanction. … Our decision today provides no such shield. The Government has a compelling interest inproviding an equal opportunity to participate in the workforce without regard to race, and prohibitions on racialdiscrimination are precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal.

Third, the decision also raises the question of the impact on state anti-discrimination laws. For sexual orientation and gender identity claims, “religious corporations” are given a specific exclusion of coverage.  Could a company like Hobby Lobby now be considered a “religious corporation” under state law? Or can it claim some other type of exemption given that Connecticut is already excluding some employers? And what is the impact of this decision on the other types of anti-discrimination laws that Connecticut has set up that are much broader than federal law?

It is this last set of questions that I think is most intriguing and necessitate some further review.

Connecticut law also prohibits discrimination against employees because of theirreligious beliefs too. How will the Hobby Lobby decision impact that aspect as well?

Today’s opinions will no doubt have an impact on employers. The real question that remains to be seen in the upcoming months and years is, “How Much?”

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 Connecticut General Assembly is in full swing with the budget dominating the discussion. But expect to hear of several high-profile bills continuing to make their way through the legislature. 

Here is a brief update on a few of them:

  • Last week, the House unanimously passed H.B. 5174 which deals with workplace violence in the publc employee ranks. Specifically, the bill requires all state employees to be trained on workplace violence awareness, prevention and preparedness.  The bill now moves on to the Senate for a vote.  H.B. 5464, which is still is on the "Go" list (meaning it’s cleared committees and is ready for a vote), would take that further and require that reports of workplace bullying by public employees be tracked and reported. 
     
  • H.B. 6347 would provide an enforcement mechanism for state employees to exercise their rights under state FMLA laws. That bill is also awaiting a vote before the legislature.
     
  • The so-called "Captive Audience" bill cleared the Judiciary committee last week is is also on the "Go" list now.  The bill would prohibit employers from requiring that employees attend meetings where the primary purpose is to discuss "religious or political matters".

    But what this bill is really designed to prevent is meetings by the employer in advance of a union representation vote, where the employer discusses why  voting for a union may not be in the employees’ best interest.  You can continue to track the status of the bill here
     

  • The bill mandating paid sick leave to all employees (of employers of 50 or more employees) is still winding its way through the General Assembly.  Senate Bill 913 now set for the Senate calendar where the votes are exceedingly close by all indications. 
     
  • News on Senate Bill 984 has been quiet for several weeks now. This is one worth following though as it would prohibit employers from looking at the criminal records of any temporary employees unless a background check is required by law for that position. 
     
  • If you like that bill though, you’ll love H.B. 6641 which would prohibit all employers from seeking credit reports on applicants, absent limiting conditions applying.  That bill is also ready for a vote in the General Assembly. 

The next four weeks promise to be busy ones. Stay tuned for more details. We’ll be providing an update at our May 20th free seminar as well. if you haven’t signed up yet, there is limited availability now so if you’ve been on the fence, be sure to do so.