A few weeks ago, I talked about the impact that a public health emergency might have on employers and the statute addressing such emergencies. Today, Governor Ned Lamont invoked those provisions in declaring a public health emergency.
But in doing so, he also invoked another provision, Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 28-9 –– the civil preparedness emergency statute.
And it’s that provision that — potentially — gives him broad powers unlike any that we see in normal times.
The key provision here is Section 28-9(b)(1) which states, in part:
Following the Governor’s proclamation of a civil preparedness emergency pursuant to subsection (a) of this section or declaration of a public health emergency pursuant to section 19a-131a, the Governor may modify or suspend in whole or in part, by order as hereinafter provided, any statute, regulation or requirement or part thereof whenever the Governor finds such statute, regulation or requirement, or part thereof, is in conflict with the efficient and expeditious execution of civil preparedness functions or the protection of the public health. The Governor shall specify in such order the reason or reasons therefor and any statute, regulation or requirement or part thereof to be modified or suspended and the period, not exceeding six months unless sooner revoked, during which such order shall be enforced. Any such order shall have the full force and effect of law upon the filing of the full text of such order in the office of the Secretary of the State.
Now, to be fair, normally such declarations go unnoticed by the public. But the use of the statute confers broad powers and broad immunity to the state and political subdivisions.
Just last year, the Connecticut Supreme Court reviewed liability for an accident that occurred during a snowstorm (which was also an “emergency”) in Sena v. American Medical Response and it noted that such emergencies warrant strong protections for immunity.
Now, with an emergency, the Governor could suspend wage/hour laws that might be at odds with a public health emergency. (Not that I think this will happen).
The law also allows for the taking possession of land, machinery and equipment in the event of a shortage or disaster including a “rolling stock of steam” locomotives. (Somehow I don’t think that’ll be necessary here as well.)
But employers — beware of a related, yet little-known statute: Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 28-17. That provision makes it illegal for an employee to be discharged “because he is a member of any organization engaged in civil preparedness or because he is eligible for induction into the armed forces of the United States.”
So, over the next few months, if your employees are involved in civil preparedness organizations, be mindful of these protections. (And you obviously will have bigger issues to worry about too.)
We are definitely in uncharted territory as the Covid-19 pandemic spreads and the preparations continue.