generalassemblyThe dust has finally settled from the close of the Connecticut General Assembly on Wednesday.  And it’s time to take a look at the last few days to see what employment law bills passed.

(I’ll tackle the changes that have been made to the CHRO in a post later today.)

As I’ve noted in prior posts (here, here and here), several employment law-related bills had already passed including: a bill regarding online privacy rights of employees (signed by Governor); a bill allowing double damages in wage/hour cases awaiting Governor’s signature); a bill protecting interns from discrimination and harassment (same); and a bill introducing labor history into school curriculum (same).

In the last days, however, a closely-watched bill that prohibits employers from enacting rules that prevent employees from sharing information about their wages, passed. It also awaits the Governor’s signature.

The bill has been amended since it was first introduced but still places additional restrictions on employers. As a result, employers should consider updating their policies and revisiting their approach to salary discussions.

As recapped by the General Assembly, the bill accomplishes the following:

This bill prohibits employers, including the state and municipalities, from taking certain steps to limit their employees’ ability to share information about their wages. Under the bill, such sharing consists of employees under the same employer (1) disclosing or discussing the amount of their own wages or other employees’ voluntarily disclosed wages or (2) asking about other employees’ wages. Specifically, the bill bans employers from (1) prohibiting their employees from such sharing; (2) requiring employees to sign a waiver or document that denies their right to such sharing; and (3) discharging, disciplining, discriminating or retaliating against, or otherwise penalizing employees for such sharing.

The bill allows employees to bring a lawsuit to redress a violation of its provisions in any court of competent jurisdiction. The suit must be brought within two years after an alleged violation. Employers can be found liable for compensatory damages, attorney’s fees and costs, punitive damages, and any legal and equitable relief the court deems just and proper.

The amendment to the bill that was passed limits an employee’s sharing of another employee’s wage information to information that (1) is about another of the employer’s employees and (2) was voluntarily disclosed by the other employee.

I’ve noted before that I think many of the provisions are duplicative of federal law and a concern that there isn’t a big public policy need to create a new cause of action here.

But it’s a bit too late for that. The Governor proposed this bill so he is very likely to sign it.  The provisions go into effect on July 1, 2015.  (Contrast that with other bills that go into effect on October 1, 2015.)

Another bill that passed in the closing days was House Bill 6707 which allows employers to fire employees for failing some off-duty drug tests without impacting their unemployment rating.  It awaits the Governor’s signature.  As recapped by the General Assembly:

This bill expands the circumstances under which a private-sector employer can discharge or suspend an employee without affecting the employer’s unemployment taxes. It creates a “non-charge” against an employer’s experience rate for employees discharged or suspended because they failed a drug or alcohol test while off duty and subsequently lost a driver’s license needed to perform the work for which they had been hired. (The law disqualifies a person from operating a commercial motor vehicle for one year if he or she is convicted of driving under the influence (DUI.)) In effect, this allows the discharged or suspended employee to collect unemployment benefits without increasing the employer’s unemployment taxes.

Several other bills failed in the final days including a low wage penalty, paid family & medical leave, a minimum work week for janitors, limits on criminal background checks and on credit reports,

Overall, it was a busy year for the legislature. For employers, the next few months should keep you busy with a review of your existing policies and procedures to ensure compliance with these new laws.

capitolWe’re nearly at the end of the legislative session and the bills are coming fast and furious.

Late Friday, the General Assembly passed a bill (Senate Bill 914) that mandates (rather than allows) double damages to be granted in instances where an employer failed to pay an employee the proper minimum wage or overtime pay.

Courts will still have discretion to determine what may be “allowed” for costs and “reasonable attorney’s fees.”

The bill creates one exception: Under the bill, the double-damage requirement does not apply to employers who establish a good-faith belief that their underpayments were legal. Such employers must, however, pay full damages, plus court costs and attorney’s fees, as those fees are determined by the court.

The bill, if signed by the governor (which is expected), will go into effect October 1, 2015.

I previously discussed this bill back in March here.

As to what else is out there (as of late Sunday evening):

In one of my very first posts way back in 2007, I said this:

For employment lawyers and HR professionals, it’s “old” news that overtime lawsuits are a major concern.  Business Week picks up on that trend in next week’s Cover Story entitled: “Wage Wars: Does your Boss Owe You Overtime”.

According to the article:

No one tracks precise figures, but lawyers on both sides estimate that over the last few years companies have collectively paid out more than $1 billion annually to resolve these claims, which are usually brought on behalf of large groups of employees.

Yes, you read that right. A BILLION dollars.

Since that time, the numbers of lawsuits have only increased.  Indeed, during the 2013-2014 year, a record 8126 federal wage & hour cases were filed. That is up over 436 percent since 2000.

The attorneys’ fees and the existing potential for additional damages have long been a large incentive for attorneys representing employees to bring these claims.

Heck, fellow blogger and Connecticut lawyer Richard Hayber alone lists 18 class action claims on his site for people to get involved with (you’re welcome, Rick.).

And yet, for some reason, the Connecticut General Assembly thinks that this is somehow an underrepresented area of litigation.

Why do I make that conclusion? Because last week, the Labor & Public Employee Committee approved of a bill (Raised Bill 914)  that would mandate double damages in cases of a failure to pay overtime wages unless the employer could prove that it had a “good faith belief” in its underpayment.

Let’s be clear: That good faith belief standard — which isn’t defined in the bill — would be a very high hurdle to clear.  And it would make settlement of cases much more expensive.

For that reason, the CBIA has opposed the bill stating it “discourages employers from ever being able to challenge employee wage claims, because the only possible results would be to pay double damages if wrong on the claim or pay high legal costs to be proved right.”

Whatever the legislative intention, this is yet another bill in search of a problem.  Indeed, if anything, the wage & hour lawsuit craze is booming right now.  Passage of the bill would only create additional incentives for litigation.

There’s still a long way to go in this legislative session, but bills like these are giving employers in Connecticut a good deal of heartburn.