Every once in a while, you come across a law that seems so out of place that you do a double take.
Did that really say what I think it said? That can’t be what I think that means. Can it?
Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-51l is one of those statutes that employers are likely unaware of. Of course, try finding a politician who will criticize it.
Why? Read on.
Here’s the scenario: Suppose you are a salesperson for a mid-size employer in the state and you decide to run for a full-time local or state office. You then win (congrats). And maybe you win a second term. But then – after eight years in office — you decide to leave office.
Can you get your job back with your prior employer? Well, under state law, the answer is remarkably (with a caveat or two) yes.
And better still: you can get credit for your time in office.
Sounds a little absurd right? After all, new parents who leave the workforce for years to raise their kids don’t get this protection, nor do people who suffer from long-term illnesses who have to leave their jobs for some years.
But, it’s all there in black and white. Indeed, in Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-51l, any person employed by a private employer of 25 or more people who leaves such employment to accept a full-time elective municipal or state office must be granted a personal leave of absence for two consecutive terms.
Upon reapplication to the employer, the employer must then reinstate that employee to his or her original position or a similar position with equivalent pay and accumulated seniority, retirement, fringe benefits and other service credits.
There is one exception to the general rule. If the employer’s circumstances have changed as to make it impossible or unreasonable to do so, the employer is not required to do so. But how often is it “impossible” for an employer to rehire an employee to at least a similar position?
(Before you start berating our current legislators for preserving their own interests, remember that they are part-time legislators so this statute does not apply to most of them. Only full time officials are entitled to the protection.)
Ultimately, this statute is a trap for the unwary private employer. My guess is that most employers are unaware of their obligations here. Of course, there’s an easy solution. Eliminate the law and let elected officials seek jobs like the rest of the workforce.
Until then, employers who have employees who leave to run for public office beware: The goodbye may really be a “see you later.”