The Connecticut Supreme Court today addressed the issue of who is an "employee" under a provision of the state’s unpaid wage law that allows individuals to institute a civil action. (Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 31-72). That statute basically says that when wages aren’t paid under some other provisions (sections 31-71a to 31-71i), the employee may bring a lawsuit to recover damages.
Here’s the conundrum: Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 31-72 doesn’t define the term "employee". In the case released today, Saunders v. Firtel (download here) (officially released on September 22, 2009) , the employer argued that the definition of "employee" — found in the minimum wage section of the law, Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-58 — should apply (which would exclude executive, administrative and professional individuals from being an "employee").
The Connecticut Supreme Court disagreed and found that the definition of "employee" found in another statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 31-71a should apply instead. That statute defines an employee as any individual who "suffered or permitted to work by an employer" (a much broader standard).
Although the court doesn’t touch on this, there could be a little bit of confusion on this issue because the particular definition (Sec. 31-71a) says it applies only to interpreting Sections 31-71a to 31-71i (the basis for an unpaid wage claim). But the court obviously had no problem finding that it would be bizarre for an employee to be able to have a claim for unpaid wages, but not be able to sue about it in the next section.
This decision is really of no surprise. It is hard to imagine that the court would carve out a whole group of employees from the state’s unpaid wage statutes that would be unable to sue.
For employers, this decision should have virtually no impact on the way they run their business. The case addresses an interesting legal point, but aside from that, employers should be paying their employees anyways.
I’ll address the remaining part of the case discussing when double damages are appropriate in an upcoming post. (There was a concurrence and dissent by Chief Justice Rogers on that issue, which is available here.)