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.

There’s been lots of talk of late of how employers are finding various ways to help employees reduce the costs of commuting. In other states, there has even been talk of shifting to four-day workweeks or telecommuting.

Connecticut has long since adopted a telecommuting plan and policy. But an article in this week’s Hartford Business Journal reveals that it has been used very sparingly.  The HBJ reports that "Ten years after the state adopted a telecommuting policy, only 140 of approximately 50,000 state employees had telecommuting agreements in 2007."

Now, some unions and other state leaders are now looking to expand that, but may face some opposition from Governor Rell’s office:

Richard Harris, a spokesman for the governor, said it would be difficult to increase the number of state employees who work from home.

When you look at the things that state workers do — in many, many instances — it is difficult for them to telecommute because they interact directly with the public,” Harris said.

Linda Yelmini, director of labor relations for the state, doesn’t favor an expanded telecommuting policy. “Many private employers have reduced or completely eliminated these types of programs because experience has shown that lower productivity and lack of management control is often the result,” said Yelmini in an e-mail.

What’s odd about this approach is that it seems like it is running counter to the trend in the private workplace.  But even more confusing is that the state’s approach runs counter to press releases that are put out by the Connecticut Department of Transportation under its "Telecommute Connecticut!" program for private employers. These press releases state that its findings reveal that telecommuting does, in fact, "work". 

Indeed, on the department’s telecommuting pages for private employers, there are specific responses to the complaints that telecommuting doesn’t work.

Myth: Telecommuting changes managers’ expectations of employees when they’re not in the office.
Fact: You don’t need to see employees working; you need to know the results of their activity. By establishing concrete goals for telecommuters, employees working from home will know what work is expected of them and you will know that the work is getting done.

Who’s right? Obviously, there is an element of truth to both sides. Telecommuting isn’t for every employer and every job is not right for telecommuting.  But with gas prices high and more employers trying to attract quality candidates, telecommuting does make sense for employers in several instances.

It’ll be interesting to see where this debate goes in the upcoming months.  Even among federal workers, the trend seems to be more encouragement of telecommuting and alternative work arrangements.  Will Connecticut finally follow suit? We’ll just have to see.

In the meantime, employers who want more information about telecommuting can go to the state’s website which has a number of helpful resources on the subject.