As the legislative session winds down, there’s one big issue still alive that has been passing mostly under the radar of the mainstream press.  (To the CBIA’s credit, they’ve been tracking this bill for a while.)

Under current law, an employee has the right to inspect and receive a copy of his or her personnel file.  House Bill 5235 would amend this statute in several important and significant ways.

Changes to Personnel Files Act?

First, it would speed up the the time an employer has to provide a current or former employee with access to his or her file.  Second, it would require employers to provide employees with copies of documentation of any disciplinary action or termination.  Third, it would require employers to notify employees that they can include a written statement in their personnel file disagreeing with the employer’s discipline, evaluation, or termination of the employee.

These proposed changes do not come in the middle of any “crisis” with the current law in Connecticut. Indeed, I’m not aware of any notable case pending at the Connecticut Department of Labor brought by an employee who complained that the current system was unfair or that his or her employer was not complying with the law.  Connecticut is one of the few states with laws on the books to begin with. 

Yet, these proposed changes could have a substantial impact on the way employers manage their workforce.

As noted above, an employer would be required to provide an employee with a copy of “any documentation of any disciplinary action imposed on that employee” not more than one business day after the date of imposing such action. Each employer shall immediately provide an employee with a copy of any documented notice of that employee’s termination of employment.

But there are two important questions left unaddressed by this.

First, many times employers just provide a “verbal” warning to an employee.  This is done in many instances for the employee’s benefit; after all, if an employee is late for work, employers don’t want to turn that incident into a big deal. Thus many employers simply use a:  “Hey, Sue, I’m just warning you, let’s try not to be late again. Next time, I’m going to have to write you up.”  Does this now need to be in writing?

Which leads to the second question: What is a “disciplinary action”?  Is it an actual penalty? A meeting with the employee? A verbal warning described above? Is it similar to an “adverse employment action” as that term is used in discrimination cases?

I understand from several sources at the legislature that the portion of the bill regarding “disciplinary action” is being strongly opposed by several groups so it remains to be seen whether this bill will be considered in its current form or even considered at all.  An amendment is being floated around so you can keep track of the bill here.