So this week, I’ll be speaking at our firm’s semi-annual Labor & Employment Law seminar.  Amazingly, we have reached capacity for this event and are now taking names for a waiting list! Many thanks to all who have signed up.  It should be a lot of fun.

Frequent blog contributor (and, well, a colleague) Chris Engler and I will be talking about the nuts and bolts of the hiring process.  Hiring is, after all, the engine that runs companies.  And making good hiring decisions can yield a ton of benefits in the long run.  Moreover, hiring good employees can help avoid lawsuits from arising too.

So what are we going to talk about? Well, we’re going to look at some of the new laws on hiring.  “Ban the Box” is the latest law to arise — limiting the ability of employers to ask about criminal histories on job applications.  Limits on the use of credit reports is another relatively recent law in the last few years.

After I put together the presentation, though, I came across a really interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about how some companies are using quirky interviews in their hiring process.    In doing so, the companies are striving for “culture fit”.

At Zappos, an online retailer famed for its offbeat office culture and corporate values, veteran employees size up candidates’ ability to blend in—and have veto power over those who miss the mark. The culture experts ask candidates questions that seemingly have little to do with the job, such as “If you were to write your biography, what would the title be?”

Rick Jordan, who leads talent acquisition for the nearly 1,500-person company, says longtime employees sometimes have a “gut feeling” about who is likely to succeed. About 1 in 8 don’t make the cut, he notes. “People who are true fits to the culture and believe what we believe—they’ll do anything for the business.”

But as the article notes, “culture-fit interviews raise concerns among employment experts, who warn that such screenings may be rife with potential for bias. Though these screenings haven’t been at the center of a major employment lawsuit, legal experts are concerned that they could put companies at risk.”

Indeed, there’s already a backlash against such interviews. Facebook, the article notes, “discourages its managers from using culture fit as a criteria in hiring, and calls the term ‘a bias trap,’ according to a spokeswoman.”

Where to from here? Well, employers should continually look at their hiring processes to ensure that the message of fair, non-discriminatory hiring is getting across to those who are making the decisions.

We’ll discuss this and more at the upcoming seminar. If you’re coming, please feel free to introduce yourself to me (during a break!).  See you then.

(P.S. Many thanks to Jon Hyman who alerted me to the hilarious video of President Obama’s “job interview” with Stephen Colbert. Worth a watch.)

In the course of my litigation cases, I’ve had a good-natured argument at times with a few counsel who represent employees about the mindset of employers.  The argument I’ve heard from them is that employers are too cavalier in firing employees and just go about hiring someone else (someone younger, they argue).

headahbBut what I’ve heard from my clients over the years is something different.

Typically, the decision to fire an employee is tough, made only after a series of internal conversations.  Employees with performance issues weigh on the supervisor’s minds — the struggle between trying to help the employee improve while still making sure that the needs of the business get done.

Mostly they get it right. But firing a poor performer doesn’t typically solve the issues for employers. Rather, they then need to find the RIGHT person to fill that position.

Hiring the right person is hard.   Just the process of searching for that person can sometimes feel like the proverbial needle in the haystack.  Online resumes come in by the dozen and business pressures make it difficult for employers to just find the time to parse through the resumes and interview candidates.

The headaches with hiring have only gotten worse over the last decade as well.

New laws have been put in place that place restrictions on what employers can and cannot ask and when they can ask those questions. And further restrictions on things like non-compete agreements in certain professions make hiring the right person all the more important.

For example, “Ban the Box” is now the law in Connecticut. Have you amended your employment applications to address this issue? Restrictions on the use of credit reports were put in a few years ago. Have you revised your process accordingly? And how can you search social media without running afoul of laws that ban “shoulder surfing”?  Do you give employees an “offer letter” that outlines the terms of their employment as Connecticut law requires?

I’ve talked about some of these things in prior posts, but I’m going to expound upon it further at our firm’s upcoming Labor & Employment Law seminar later this month.  You can register for the program here; space is very limited at this point.

Are there other topics related to hiring that you’d like to hear addressed at the seminar or on the blog? Be sure to post a comment so we can incorporate that in our free presentation.

In the last flurry of action, the Connecticut House last night approved Senate Bill 361, which bans the use of credit reports in hiring and promotions, in certain situations by certain employers.  The bill had previously been approved by the state Senate.

I recapped the bill in detail a few days ago.  There are a number of exceptions to the ban, so it is important for employers to review the bill and determine what portions of the bill will apply to you. As always, seek appropriate legal counsel if you need further clarification.

The measure will apply to all employers (those with one or more employees).

The bill now goes on to the Governor, who is expected to sign the measure. When signed, the bill will become effective October 1, 2011.

The Connecticut General Assembly is in full swing with the budget dominating the discussion. But expect to hear of several high-profile bills continuing to make their way through the legislature. 

Here is a brief update on a few of them:

  • Last week, the House unanimously passed H.B. 5174 which deals with workplace violence in the publc employee ranks. Specifically, the bill requires all state employees to be trained on workplace violence awareness, prevention and preparedness.  The bill now moves on to the Senate for a vote.  H.B. 5464, which is still is on the "Go" list (meaning it’s cleared committees and is ready for a vote), would take that further and require that reports of workplace bullying by public employees be tracked and reported. 
     
  • H.B. 6347 would provide an enforcement mechanism for state employees to exercise their rights under state FMLA laws. That bill is also awaiting a vote before the legislature.
     
  • The so-called "Captive Audience" bill cleared the Judiciary committee last week is is also on the "Go" list now.  The bill would prohibit employers from requiring that employees attend meetings where the primary purpose is to discuss "religious or political matters".

    But what this bill is really designed to prevent is meetings by the employer in advance of a union representation vote, where the employer discusses why  voting for a union may not be in the employees’ best interest.  You can continue to track the status of the bill here
     

  • The bill mandating paid sick leave to all employees (of employers of 50 or more employees) is still winding its way through the General Assembly.  Senate Bill 913 now set for the Senate calendar where the votes are exceedingly close by all indications. 
     
  • News on Senate Bill 984 has been quiet for several weeks now. This is one worth following though as it would prohibit employers from looking at the criminal records of any temporary employees unless a background check is required by law for that position. 
     
  • If you like that bill though, you’ll love H.B. 6641 which would prohibit all employers from seeking credit reports on applicants, absent limiting conditions applying.  That bill is also ready for a vote in the General Assembly. 

The next four weeks promise to be busy ones. Stay tuned for more details. We’ll be providing an update at our May 20th free seminar as well. if you haven’t signed up yet, there is limited availability now so if you’ve been on the fence, be sure to do so. 

The Connecticut General Assembly is heating up and a number of employment-related bills are still alive this legislative session.

The Labor & Public Employee Committee has voted a number of bills out, meaning that they’re up for consideration by either the House or Senate, or another committee.  These include:

  • HB 5460 (which would prohibit so-called “captive audience” meetings by employers)
  • HB 5464 (the so-called “workplace bullying” bill, which would mandate that the state keep track of “abusive conduct” by state employees at state agencies and mandate policies be developed to minimize abusive conduct)
  • HB 6176 (which would increase the penalties for employers that repeatedly fail to provide personnel file access upon request)
  • HB 6406 (which would require employers to give notice to employees of that employee’s entitlements and benefits and prohibit retaliation for the exercise of such rights)
  • HB 6407 (which would allow employers to mandate use of direct deposit or payroll cards — and legalize payroll cards — provided certain conditions are met)
  • SB 361 (which would prevent employers from using credit scores and other financial information in their hiring decisions, absent a limited exception)
  • SB 798 (which would modify state wage laws to require the imposition of double damages in wage/hour cases, instead of the discretionary language in the current law)
  • SB 984 (which would prohibit employers from conducting criminal background checks for prospective employees or require them to disclose their criminal background, unless otherwise required by law for the position)

Of course, whether these bills will go any further is still an open question. Nevertheless, the amount of bills still on the table means lots of legislative watching.

Besides the above bills, there are still several others also worth watching:

This legislative session is far from over. Yes, the budget battle will start dominating the headlines in the upcoming weeks, but keep your eye on a number of other bills which could have a significant impact on employers in Connecticut.

UPDATED

The Connecticut General Assembly ended its regular session last night. As far as new laws affecting employers, the session certainly ends with a whimper. 

For many employers, the big news is that the paid sick leave bill once again failed.  This time it wasn’t even put up for a vote in either chamber of the General Assembly. 

So, what are some bills that have passed over the last few days?  Well, two that come to mind are two bills affecting public employers.

  • H.B. 5202 requires (instead of allows) the Department of Administrative Services to develop guidelines for telecommuting guidelines for employees. This will affect state workers only. The guidelines must be designed to achieve the following: (1) increase worker efficiency and productivity, (2) benefit the environment, and (3) reduce traffic congestion.  The bill moves on to the Governor for her signature.
  • H.B. 5207 — which I’ve discussed at length previously — was also passed by the General Assembly. That bill restricts the use of background checks for prospective state employees until after job offers have been made.  This bill also moves to the Governor for signature.

And frankly, that’s about it. There’s just not that much of relevance to private employers.

There are some more revisions to the misclassification of workers provisions and to some workers compensation provisions. But other than that, this will go down as one of the quietest years for private employers in quite some time.

UPDATE: As I have pointed out before, though, there were other bills previously passed or considered. One of them also covers leave time for employees that are family abuse victims. The bill H.B. 5497 will be discussed in a later post

With some notable exceptions, only the bills that make it out of the Labor & Public Employee Committee have a chance for passage in the 2010 General Assembly session. (Of course, some measures get put in as amendments to other bills, but that’s still more of the exception than the rule). 

So it’s worth taking a quick peek to see what bills still have a chance of becoming law this year because of their approval from the Labor committee in the next few weeks.  A full list is available here, but these are a few of the more newsworthy ones: 

These bills are in addition to the CHRO revisions and the paid sick leave measures that I’ve previously discussed as well. 

The regular session ends on May 5, 2010 so stay tuned over the next few weeks to see which measures move on, and which ones never get brought up for a vote. 

Whether it’s due to stall tactics by some Republicans last night, as they suggested in an article in the Courant this morning, or simply other things on the agenda, several bills that would have had a major impact on employers were not passed in the closing hours of the legislative session last night.

Among the bills that were pending and that expired when the session ended: Paid Sick Leave bill (H.B. 6187), the so-called Captive Audience prohibition bill, and a bill that would ban the use of credit reports for employment decisions.

Still, there were enough other bills that passed in the last few weeks that employers will need to update their policies and procedures, particularly as they pertain to state FMLA and to discrimination.

Once the dust settles, I’ll provide a recap. And look for details coming a little bit later about a webinar next week on the legislative session too and what employers need to know. 

For the second time in a month, the legislature has tucked an amendment into a bill that seemingly had no relationship to the original bill and that will have a significant impact on employers in the Connecticut.

Latest case in point: Senate Bill 80 (S.B. 80) which is titled "AN ACT CONCERNING ELECTRONIC UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION PAYMENTS."  For a long while, that bill has just required all employers with at least 100 employees, rather than at least 250 (the current standard), who pay unemployment compensation taxes or make payments in lieu of such taxes to make the payments electronically.

As you might imagine, that bill seems fairly mundane and passed the Senate last week.

Yesterday, the House took up the bill and added an amendment which incorporates the provisions of House Bill 5521 (H.B. 5521), which I discussed previously here.  The amendment (as did the original house bill) prohibits the use of credit reports for employment decisions unless one of several exceptions applies. 

The OLR report and summary on the bill as amended is available here

Because the Senate had already approved of S.B. 80 in its original form, the House’s passage of the same bill with a new amendment sends the bill back to the Senate for consideration. I will provide a further update on the final approval of this measure after the Senate has considered it.

Last week, the Connecticut House approved House Bill 5521 (H.B. 5521), which would bar Connecticut employers from using credit reports in their employment decisions such as hiring and firing. 

You can download the bill’s text here

The bill’s main provisions would prohibit employers from asking employees or prospective employee to consent to the creation of a credit report that contains information about that person’s  credit score, credit account balances, payment history, savings or checking account balances or savings or checking account numbers as a condition of employment.

There are three exceptions, however. The employer can seek a report if (1) it is substantially related to the employee’s current or potential job, (2) it is required by law, or (3) the employer reasonably believes that the employee has engaged in specific activity that constitutes a violation of the law.

Of course, the meaning of what "substantially related" is must also be looked at. The statute defines that fphrase to mean information contained in the credit report is related to the position for which the employee or prospective employee who is the subject of the report is being evaluated because the position (A) is a managerial position which involves setting the direction or control of the business, (B) involves access to customers’, employees’ or employer’s personal or financial information other than information customarily provided in a retail transaction, (C) involves a fiduciary responsibility to the employer, including, but not limited to, the authority to issue payments, transfer money or enter into contracts, or (D) provides an expense account.

Under the bill’s provisions, employees could complain to the Connecticut Department of Labor if they suspected a violation of the law.

The bill has had several amendments proposed to it and it was not on today’s "go list", so it’s unknown yet whether the measure will actually get voted on in the state senate before the term expires in a few weeks.  Until then, employers that use credit reports in their hiring process should continue to play close attention to this and speak out to their state senators about their views of the bill.