Continuing the summer series on the basics of some employment laws in Connecticut, we turn this week to laws regarding working conditions.
Indeed, while the anti-discrimination laws and FMLA laws get all the press, there are a whole host of other laws that regulate the workplace conditions. These are no less important and ignoring this rules can often lead to a larger investigation on workplace issues.
Here are a few to remember:
- Meal or Rest Periods: Every employee who works at least 7 1/2 hours, is entitled to a consecutive 30 minute period for a meal. This meal period cannot occur in the first 2 hours or last 2 hours of work, unless there is a written agreement in place. The DOL has set up various exceptions however for public safety or because of the nature of the position. (Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-51ii.)
- Breastfeeding in the Workplace: Every employee who wishes to express breast milk or breastfeed at work can do so during a meal or rest period. Employers are obligated to find a suitable room or other location (other than a toilet stall) where the employee can express her milk in private. (Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-40w.)
- Electronic Monitoring: I’ve previously covered this more extensively in various posts like this one, but suffice to say that Connecticut allows employers to monitor their employees so long as the employees have prior written notice of such monitoring (with limited exceptions).
To provide the notice, the employer must indicate the types of monitoring that may occur, such as telephonic, key strokes, general computer usage, etc. Each employer must post this in a conspicuous place (typically, where an employer has its other "bulletin board" notices, like the minimum wage rate). Putting a reference in an employee handbook is also a wise precaution in case the notice ever gets removed from the board (and it should be noted that notice in a handbook is likely sufficient under the terms of the statute.)(Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-48d.).
If an employer does not routinely monitor employees the employer can still conduct the monitoring in situations where "(A) an employer has reasonable grounds to believe that employees are engaged in conduct which (i) violates the law, (ii) violates the legal rights of the employer or the employer’s employees, or (iii) creates a hostile workplace environment."
- No Polygraph Tests: Connecticut also has a blanket prohibition on the use of polygraph (lie-detector) tests by employers for employment purposes (with the exception of such police or correctional facilities) . (Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-51g.)
Interestingly, the ban on polygraphs appears limited to situations where the employer "requests or requires" any employee or prospective employee to submit to or take a lie detector test as a condition of obtaining or continuing employment (and cannot discipline an employee for failing to do so.) Of course, that leaves open a question of whether an employer – as part of an investigation – can ask an employee to do so. But even in that case, it may run afoul of federal laws on the subject. Suffice to say that any employer wishing to use lie detector tests should consult with counsel about it.
(Photo: Library of Congress, Women workers employed as wipers in the roundhouse having lunch in their rest room, C. & N.W. R.R., Clinton, Iowa, 1943)