In two weeks, employers in Connecticut will have to deal with something new and I worry that many employers aren’t prepared for what is coming.  It’s really a triple-whammy at the same time.

Item 1:

First, effective January 1, 2022, Connecticut’s Family and Medical Leave Act law gets expanded to almost all private employers. That means that most employees will be able to take unpaid protected leave for a serious health condition, which could include COVID.

This shouldn’t be a surprise at this point; I’ve covered this in prior posts and we even did a webinar on it.

Still, I’m not sure employers have updated policies (or created new ones for smaller employers) and may be unprepared when an employee asks for such leave.  As I’ll cover in a minute, I think we’re about due for a bunch of such requests.

Unfortunately, the new regulations implementing the new CTFMLA do not appear to be ready at this point; we’re hearing that it may still be until early January until we get that additional guidance from the state.

There is a landing page from the state to watch but some of the links aren’t yet operational.

Item 2:

Second, also effective January 1, 2022, the Connecticut paid leave benefit goes into effect. This means many employees will be entitled to receive paid leave benefits from the state for a qualifying absence (if they’ve been paying into it).  This runs separate from any unpaid protected leave the employee may be entitled to.

In fact, employees can already start filing applications for benefits.

One of the questions that has already been raised is whether employers can require employees to use PTO concurrently with the state paid leave benefits.

According to the state authority:

An employer may require their employees (or may allow their employees to choose) to use their accrued paid time off concurrently with Connecticut Paid Leave, provided that the total compensation received by the employee cannot exceed the employee’s regular rate of compensation. The CT FMLA statute also states that an employer may require an employee to use accrued vacation time while they are out of work on CT FMLA leave (whether or not the employee seeks benefits from the CT Paid Leave Authority) provided that the employer must allow the employee to retain at least two weeks of vacation leave or equivalent paid time off.

Employers are going to have to understand the interaction between PTO, CTFMLA and CT Paid Leave benefits quickly because….

Item 3:

I’m increasingly concerned that we’re at the start of a pandemic wave bigger than we’ve seen before. This concern is bolstered by warnings from the CDC of an impending (and in the words of the Washington Post, “punishing”) wave from the Omicron variant.

Already, we’ve seen universities have to shut down early because of how easily this variant spreads — even among fully vaccinated people. At Cornell University, more than 900 cases were reported this week, most among people who were fully vaccinated because at Cornell, they have a 97 percent fully vaccinated rate.

And Connecticut is already in the midst of it’s worst wave since last winter.

As The New York Times reported this morning, “one reason that Omicron seems to spread so quickly is that it causes more cases among the vaccinated than earlier variants, although they are likely to be mild.”

Employers, particularly those that have been reporting to work full time, are likely to face a wave of absences very quickly.  As such, employers should be prepared to take actions to prevent the spread or mitigate the absences.

How? We know mask wearing remains pretty effective; consider re-implementing a mask mandate (with medical-grade masks if possible) for the next month. Then if you get an outbreak, it may not spread or spread as quickly.

In addition, bolster your contact tracing and quarantine protocols and make sure that employees who can work from home can do so on a moment’s notice.  It’s quite possible that this hits employers hard quickly so that resources might get overwhelmed.

And employers should prepare their HR teams and managers to deal with widespread absences, requests for PTO and claims for CTFMLA.

Perhaps this wave won’t be as bad as feared, but if we’ve learned anything the last two years it’s that you can really never be too prepared. Time is short.

Get to it.