Human Resources (HR) Compliance

The 2018 session of the General Assembly started last week and increasing workplace training is a top priority for passage.

Indeed, it is not surprising that we’re starting to see the first proposed legislation to address the number of harassment claims that have been making headlines the last six months.

Governor’s Bill 5043 sets up the following changes:

  • First, it would increase the number of employers that need to provide anti-harassment training — resetting the number of employees needed to fall under the statute from 50 to 15.
  • Second, the bill would also require all employees (not just supervisors and managers) to undergo two hours of what it calls “awareness and anti-harassment compliance training” and have that training updated every five years.
  • The training that now is just focused on sexual harassment prevention in the workplace, but would also be expanded to include all types of harassment—including that based on race, color, religious creed, age, sex, gender identity or expression, marital status, and national origin.
  • The training would also be required to include information about the employer’s policy against harassment, examples of the types of conduct that constitute and do not constitute harassment, strategies to prevent harassment, bystander intervention training and a discussion of “workplace civility” that shall include what is acceptable and expected behavior in the workplace.
  • The bill would require employers of three or more employees to continue to post information regarding all types of harassment and, on an annual basis, to “directly communicate such information and remedies to employees on an annual basis”.

My best guess is that this item of legislation will go through some additional tweaks to satisfy various constituencies, particularly because of the increased costs involved.

For example, expanding the training to all employees would create a massive new industry for training and, as the CBIA has said, a costly mandate as well.

There is more legislation coming down the pike in the employment law area.  This is just one of the items being floated so stay tuned.

Are you ready for blockchain’s impact in employment law?

This seems to be the new equivalent to the buzz a decade ago that social media was going to change the world (it kinda did).

Perhaps bigger.

At this point in the post, there are probably two reactions: 1) Tell me more!; and 2) What are you even TALKING about?

So, let’s start with the second question first — what is the “blockchain”? There are many discussions, but one recent ABA article had this to say:

Blockchain is commonly defined as a decentralized digital ledger in which transactions are recorded chronologically and publicly. In its infancy stages, blockchain was the mechanism that tracked cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. However, as the technology evolved, variations such as private, permissioned, and consortium blockchains have emerged. Ultimately, blockchain technology can facilitate many types of business transactions.

Another article by a lawyer described the hype as follows:

By design, blockchains are inherently resistant to modification of the data—once recorded, the data in a block cannot be altered retroactively without obviously corrupting later blocks, which depend on the original data from the earlier block as part of the hash. It can take enormous time and energy to go back and rehash subsequent blocks to try to hide the earlier alteration, and in the meantime new blocks are being added to the chain. This makes a blockchain extremely resistant to modification.

The applications of the blockchain are still in the infancy phase.  (The hype cycle for blockchain is in the “peak of inflated expectations” period and it projects that we are still 5-10 years off from maturity.) And thus, any discussion regarding its implications in the employment law arena are necessarily speculative.

But let the speculation begin.

For example, one human resources expert suggested some uses for this technology as follows:

  • It may make the concept of a “self-sovereign identity” for employees a reality, making verification of past employment or certifications easier and more secure. (Or this breathless article about “Blockchain-based CVs Could Change Employment Forever.“)
  • Potentially, you could run payroll off the blockchain to make those transactions more secure.
  • It could also be used to help employers keep confidential health information and transmit it more easily.

It only takes some imagination to go beyond that as well.

  • “Smart” employment law contracts, in which transactions automatically happen, could be introduced into the workplace.
  • Or the blockchain could be used to secure IP rights to company products, thereby avoiding the confusion as to whether the employee or the employer “owns” such rights.

Blockchain is still very much developing and I wouldn’t be surprised if this article seemed a bit dated a few years from now.  After all, who would’ve thought you could order a car (Uber) inside a social messaging app (Facebook) just a decade ago?

But employers and their attorneys who stay up on technology should understand the potential implications for blockchain in the workplace and be ready to adapt once the technology becomes mature enough to use.  From my perspective, there’s still time to keep reading about this developing technology; the time for action is still yet to come.

In trying to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace, how do we go beyond just training?

That is, in essence, the question that my colleagues (Jarad Lucan and Ashley Marshall) and I have been talking about recently.

And, fortunately for you, a topic of a free CLE webinar we are putting on a few weeks.  It’s set for February 13th at 12 p.m.

What we are really looking at is how do you get your company culture and actions in line to try to reduce and eradicate sexual harassment from your workplace?

It does not, obviously, happen overnight.  Perhaps it’s revising your policies. Perhaps it’s adding an ombudsman program if you’re large enough.

Or perhaps it involves encouragement of employee complaints so that you can tackle the issue more directly.

There is no one size fits all to this but it’s an important enough topic (naturally) that we wanted to devote a CLE webinar just to this.

Hope you can join us for this timely topic.

In college, I wanted to write for some of the major newspapers and be on their front page.

Little did I know that my big break would now come years later, as a result of being on the cover of the Hartford Business Journal.  

Wow.

But enough about me.  This blog is about employment law so let’s talk about the article inside the HBJ because it’s definitely worth a read.  

You see, the photo, has little to do with the content.  And the content is what employers should really be paying attention to.

The article is all about the topic of sexual harassment in the workplace, which continues to make headlines each day.

As I noted in the article, we just haven’t seen an increase in lawsuits….yet.

[F]or non-celebrity victims and their employers, the implications are just as dangerous and costly, so prevention is becoming a greater focus for many companies, lawyers say.

“It’s been the topic of conversation,” said Dan Schwartz, an employment lawyer at Hartford law firm Shipman & Goodwin, who has his own blog where he’s been tackling the issue. “It is at a level we haven’t seen in at least 10 to 15 years. There’s always been a steady stream [of inquiries] but we’re getting more calls from clients. It doesn’t mean we’re seeing more legal cases being filed. Lawsuits are a trailing indicator here.”

The article also summarizes things that employers can be doing now, even if there isn’t a sexual harassment complaint made. Update policies. Train managers and supervisors. Continually create an environment where harassment isn’t tolerated.

Each week seemingly brings new issues to the table; employers that can keep their focus on the issue while also maintaining perspective will do well in the long-term to reduce the likelihood of a claim at the workplace.

After a break for the holidays, my long-running discussion with Nina Pirrotti, an employee-side attorney , returns. Nina is a partner at the law firm of Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald and Pirrotti, where she represents employees in all types of matters.  She’s a past-President of the Connecticut Employment Lawyers Association, a current member of the Executive Board of NELA, and a frequent presenter on employment law topics.

In one of our prior discussions last year, we talked about whether we were seeing the beginning of a trend of sexual harassment matters after the Fox News scandals.  Now, after the last few months, we revisit the topic further to see where we are.  Let us know what you think about posts like this in the comments below.    

Nina: A warm hello to my management lawyer friend!  I could not think of a more opportune time to re-kindle our dialogue about sexual harassment.  For me, having Time Magazine name its Person(s) of the Year as the Silence Breakers has been the gratifying culmination to a year of sea change on this vital topic.

I got to tell you Dan (and in so doing will undoubtedly reveal to our readers that I lead an embarrassingly sheltered life), that before Taylor Swift exhibited the courage to subject herself to countersue David Muellerman (the man who sexually assaulted her and brought an unsuccessful lawsuit against her for defamation when she outed him)  I did not even know who she was.   She is my new hero.  She sued him for a symbolic $1 and she did it, she said, because she wanted to empower other women who have been sexually harassed and assaulted to come forward.

Well, I don’t need to tell you that they are coming forward in droves.  It is as if a switch has been flipped.  The paradigm has shifted and women who once felt that they had to suck it up in order to feed their families and save their careers are beginning to have hope that they no longer have to make that Hobson’s choice.  And just as gratifying as this loosening of fear in victims of sexual harassment and assault about coming forward has been the employers’ swift responses in holding the predator (no matter how lofty his perch) accountable.    Hallelujah!

Is this the beginning of the end to sexual harassment as we know it?  I wish.  Did you notice that cropped elbow that is in the photograph of the otherwise well-known faces on the front cover of Time’s Person of the Year issue?  The elbow symbolizes the millions of women who endure sexual harassment and assault and do not come forward for fear that their careers, their reputations, their families, and/or their personal safety are at stake if they do.

While I am gratified by the swift and appropriately severe responses to sexual harassment and assault committed by powerful men in the public eye, most of the sexual harassment and assault victims I represent do not have that leverage that comes with an outed perpetrator who has a public persona.  In such cases, too often, unless the employer fears public exposure, I find it does not have that same sense of urgency to take action.

What about you, Dan?  What does this surge in reporting indicate to you?  Are you finding more clients who are interested in taking preventative measures?  What are their concerns?

Dan: Happy New Year to you Nina! So, it’s been quite an interesting few months.  Everyone seems more busy.  Before I talk about that, it’s worth emphasizing that lost in all this reporting is that the incidents of misconduct that are making headlines are really varied in scope.  You have incidents of outright sexual assault being tossed together with conduct that may (or may not even) be classified as sexual harassment.    

And that is what I’m concerned about now.  A tasteless joke in the workplace is clearly NOT the same as some of the incidents that, say, Harvey Weinstein is accused of. (You can look it up; this is a safe for work blog, after all.)  And so, yes, we’re hearing more incidents reported. But that doesn’t necessarily translate to more credible claims.  I’ve heard from other attorneys representing employees that they’re seeing twice as many cases come in to them but they aren’t taking a lot more cases. 

And as we know, we’re still months away from seeing new lawsuits arising from these claims too.  What happens by then?

It’s too early to predict that the #MeToo movement won’t have the same impact six months from now (I happen to think that it will) but even since the holidays it seems the press is starting to move on a bit (Golden Globes, notwithstanding).  It’s hard to keep up the pressure that the end of 2017 had.

For employers, it’s important to not get caught up in assuming the worst and thinking that everything they’ve been doing has been a failure.  Much HAS changed over the last 20 years.  I do think, though, it’s an opportunity for employers to re-evaluate their training. They can also take a look at their culture: Are there any expense reports revealing something more nefarious (a Gentleman’s Club visit perhaps?)? Is it time to institute a “no-dating” policy for supervisors/subordinates? And where are your weak spots? Continue Reading The Dialogue: The Shifts That #MeToo Are Creating in the Workplace

Summer feels really far away right now.  It’s just been brutally cold here in the Northeast.

(How cold? Too cold for skiing.  That’s brutal by any stretch.)

But summer WILL eventually come. So we’re told.

So the news late Friday that the U.S. Department of Labor was scrapping the test it had released just a few years ago about interns probably went a bit unnoticed.

At first blush, it might look like a big deal. But, in reality, not so much because the federal courts here (including New York as well) had already adopted the new test that the USDOL announced on Friday.

I’ve covered both before, but the TL;DR version is this: The DOL is going to the “primary benefit” or “primary beneficiary” standard that had been outlined in 2015 by the Second Circuit.

Law360 summarized it pretty well here:

Under the [Second Circuit] test, courts have analyzed the “economic reality” of interns’ relationship with their employer to determine which party is the primary beneficiary of the relationship. The standard has been applied in various cases where courts have ruled that interns in a variety of industries, as the primary beneficiaries of their internships, don’t qualify as employees for FLSA purposes and can’t collectively pursue claims for misclassification and wage violations under that statute.

That said, employers in Connecticut don’t have it easy. As I noted in a prior post as well, Connecticut passed anti-discrimination law protection for interns that uses another test too.  That law better tracked the old DOL interpretation which has now been overturned.   That said, that law does not apply to wage and hour claims, only discrimination claims.

So, what does it mean? Employers have a tricky time structuring internships to meet both federal and state law guidance. The “primary beneficiary” test is going to carry the day in many instances, but employers that often use interns should still consult their legal counsel to see if there are any particular issues that need to be addressed for your company.

  • You have your bread. And milk.  Presumably eggs too.  (Anyone making French Toast this morning?)
  • But do you know the employment law rules that apply for winter storms and classic nor’easters like we have today?
  • I’ve written about it plenty before, but here are three issues you may not have thought about recently.
  1. Reporting Time or Minimum Daily Earnings Guaranteed: Connecticut has a “reporting time” obligation (as do several of our neighboring states). It is contained in various regulations and applies to certain industries like the “mercantile trade”. You should already be aware of this law, but it has particular application in storm situations where people may not work full shifts.

    For example, in Conn. Regs. 31-62-D2(d) for stores, an employer who requests an employee to report to duty shall compensate that employee for a minimum of 4 hours regardless of whether any actual work ends up getting assigned. So if you bring your employees in today only to send them home 30 minutes later, you may be on the hook. For restaurant workers, it is typically a minimum of two hours (Conn. Regs. 31-62-E1)

    Takeaway? For certain industries, be sure to know whether you will need to pay employees for a minimum amount of time if you send them home early from their shift.

  2. Wage Agreements: Also be aware of any wage agreements (collective bargaining agreements mainly) that require you to provide employees with a guaranteed minimum number of work hours. Typically, these will need to be followed.
  3. Hours Worked: Be aware of Connecticut’s “hours worked” regulation found in Conn. Regs. 31-60-11. That regulation says that “all time during which an employee is required to be on call for emergency service at a location designated by the employer shall be considered to be working time” regardless of whether the employee is called to work.

    When an employee is on call, but is simply required to keep employer informed of whereabouts or until contacted by the employer, working time starts when the employee is notified of his assignment and ends when that employee is finished.

As I’ve said before, none of these issues should really be new for an employer in Connecticut. But with this being the first big storm of the season, it’s time to shovel out those policies.

For more on storm-related posts, check out this post here.

In years past, I’ve looked at my crystal ball, I’ve read the tea leaves and I’ve even examined my Magic 8-Ball sitting in my office.  (You never know when you need one.)

I’m out of prediction-making tools.

And indeed, since I started doing this, there are now national lawfirms that are offering up their predictions on employment laws. And everyone is pretty much saying the saying thing nationally:

More focus on sexual harassment claims; more on pay equity;  big changes at the NLRB; more on LGBT employment law protections and still more wage/hour lawsuits.

I’ll make it easy: I agree.

But what’s missing is a look at the local perspective for Connecticut employers. So here are some fearless predictions for 2018 applicable to employers in Connecticut.

  1. It’s (still) the economy, stupid. Where’s the recovery? As it turns out, Connecticut’s economy and budget are both in a bit of a mess. Unemployment has crept back up of late and the General Assembly looks to be coming back to deal with a growing budget deficit. Are we in a recession?There’s no end in sight for this mess for 2018; that said, is the federal tax cut going to trigger some activity?I’m guessing not. I think layoffs and more use of independent contractors may carry the day here. And with that, will we see more lawsuits and more charges of discrimination? Let’s check back in a year.
  2. Count on an interesting Connecticut Supreme Court case or two. Each year, the Connecticut Supreme Court releases an employment law decision or two. Some are important to employers; several others are only notable for employment lawyers.This year, there’s one or two cases pending that may be both.  Keep an eye out for MacDermid Inc. v. Leonetti, which was argued in November 2017.  In that case, an employee signed a separation agreement which included a release of a pending workers’ compensation claim for $70,000 or so.  But the employee pursued the workers compensation claim and the Commission (and the Connecticut Supreme Court) found that the agreement didn’t bar the claim. The employer then sought return of the severance and a jury agreed. Now the employee appeals.  My guess: A close call but comparable federal “tender back” rules suggest employee may not need to return the severance for an invalid release. That said, I’m hedging a bit because the case is complicated with lots of briefing so don’t be surprised if a limited exception for the employer here is found.   (I’ll have more on this case in an upcoming post.)And there’s a decision expected in whether religious institutions have immunity from employment discrimination suits under Connecticut law.  Stay tuned.
  3. Less action from the General Assembly than you might think. It’s an election year for Governor. Moreover, the Senate is evenly split.  And if you following polling, the Democrats in the state seem to have some vulnerability.  All that adds up to a legislature that may be less active than you might think.That said, there’s likely to be a discussion about the use of confidentiality provisions in settlements of sexual harassment claims.  And more attacks on the use of non-compete agreements. But like the pregnancy discrimination law that was passed in 2017, expect a compromise that makes any proposal much more palatable to business interests.

So, there you have it.  Three fearless predictions in Connecticut employment law.

In the meantime, I need another cup of coffee this morning. Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2018.

There is news in the employment law world beyond sexual harassment.  Arbitration clauses to be exact.

Yesterday, the Second Circuit issued a small, but important decision for employers that will continue to limit FLSA wage & hour claims.

The court ruled that an employee’s FLSA claims in court were barred by the arbitration clause contained in his employment agreement.  While it isn’t the first time, it’s clear logic will be tough to ignore.

(The case, Rodriguez-Depena v. Parts Authority, Inc. et al can be downloaded here.)

For the court, it was not even a close call. The court ruled that the Supreme Court’s pronouncement years ago that age discrimination claims were barred by an arbitration clause controlled.

The court also looked at whether its decision in the Cheeks v. Freeport Pancake House, Inc. – which required oversight of settlements of FLSA claims — precluded arbitration. The court said it did not.

The rationale of Cheeks, however, is assurance of the fairness of a settlement of a claim filed in court, not a guarantee of a judicial forum.

For employers in Connecticut it remains to be seen if the Connecticut Supreme Court will be all in on such a logic for state wage & hour law claims, but the federal endorsement of arbitration provisions provide a strong basis for doing so.

The case is yet another sign that employers have a few options when it comes to FLSA claims.  It has previously held that class action waivers for FLSA claims are also valid.  

Nevertheless, employers should once again consider whether mandatory arbitration provisions are right for their workforce, particularly when combined with class action waivers.  Having such provisions in place could make a big difference in the future.

In yesterday’s post, I talked about the basics of what is and is not “sexual harassment”.

Continuing the theme of going back to the basics, employers in the Constitution State have certain posting and training requirements that must be followed.

These requirements are found in the administrative regulations set up by the CHRO regarding sexual harassment prevention.

I first detailed these in a post WAY back in October 2007 (!) but they remain just as important today as ten years ago.

For posting: All employers who have 3 or more employees must provide notices that say sexual harassment is illegal and address what the remedies are for such harassment.

But here’s a free shortcut: The CHRO has prepared a model poster that complies with the statute and is free to download.  You can do so here. 

It’s a good time to remind employers too that employers should also update their “Discrimination is Illegal” poster also offered by the CHRO.  The poster was updated in October and again, is free to download here.  

For training: The training requirements only apply to employers who have 50 or more employees and apply only to supervisory employees.

Of course, this does not mean that employers who have less than 50 should NOT provide the training; indeed, offering the training can assist with a defense of a potential sexual harassment training.

Specifically, within 6 months of a new supervisor being hired or an employee being promoted to a supervisory position, the employee must receive at least two hours of training.

The format of the training should be conducted in a classroom-like setting, using clear and understandable language and in a format that allows participants to ask questions and receive answers.

The CHRO has indicated, in an informal opinion, that some e-learning training may satisfy this requirement.  Regardless, the training must also include discussion of six discrete topics such as what the state and federal laws say, what types of conduct could be considered sexual harassment, and discussing strategies for preventing such harassment.

Those topics are:

  • (A) Describing all federal and state statutory provisions prohibiting sexual harassment in the work place with which the employer is required to comply, including, but not limited to, the Connecticut discriminatory employment practices statute (section 46a-60 of the Connecticut General Statutes) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (42 U.S.C. section 2000e, and following sections)
  • (B) Defining sexual harassment as explicitly set forth in subdivision (8) of subsection (a) of section 46a-60 of the Connecticut General Statutes and as distinguished from other forms of illegal harassment prohibited by subsection (a) of section 46a-60 of the Connecticut General Statutes and section 3 of Public Act 91-58;
  • (C) Discussing the types of conduct that may constitute sexual harassment under the law, including the fact that the harasser or the victim of harassment may be either a man or a woman and that harassment can occur involving persons of the same or opposite sex;
  • (D) Describing the remedies available in sexual harassment cases, including, but not limited to, cease and desist orders; hiring, promotion or reinstatement; compensatory damages and back pay;
  • (E) Advising employees that individuals who commit acts of sexual harassment may be subject to both civil and criminal penalties; and
  • (F) Discussing strategies to prevent sexual harassment in the work place.

Here the kicker: The regulations suggest (but do not mandate) that such training be updated for ALL supervisory employees every three years.

What does this mean? It means that if an employer wants to project an image that it has a strong policy against sexual harassment, it should consider following this advisory regulation to show that it is doing above and beyond what is required.

The regulations also suggest (but do not mandate) that records be kept of the training.

Again, it is a wise course of action to follow.

If you haven’t taken a look at your posting and training materials at your company, now is a good time to do so.