Now that Thanksgiving is in the past, it’s time to look forward to the future.

Well, not before getting a recap of everything that transpired in employment law in the last year. Or at least everything that we can fit in an hour long seminar.

The webinar that broke attendance records last year is back again on December 4, 2018 at noon ET.

This year, five employment law bloggers are presenting the “Best-Ever Year-End Employment Law Review that Five Employment Law Bloggers Have Ever Presented” webinar.  Registration is just $25 and it’s eligible for CLE/SHRM/HRCI credit.

All that is needed is to sign up here. 

The presenters this year are:

  • Robin Shea, Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete
  • Kate Bischoff, tHRive Law & Consulting
  • Jon Hyman, Meyers Roman
  • Eric Meyer, FisherBroyles
  • Jeff Nowak, Franczek Radelet
  • Daniel Schwartz, Shipman & Goodwin

Among the topics that you can surely expect to hear about: #MeToo, LGBT discrimination, Data Privacy and Security, Wage & Hour issues, and FMLA.

Be sure to sign up; it promises to be the best ever. (At least until next year.)

Back in 2010, I wrote a simple blog post about how organ donors were protected under Connecticut’s FMLA law.  In it, I recount how my father — 25 years prior at that time — donated a kidney to his brother (my uncle).  At the time, I noted that both were well.  

On Sunday, October 28, 2018, my uncle passed away after a short illness.   Dr. Allen Schwartz was retired as the Deputy Director of Policy and Enterprise solutions at NYS Office for People with Developmental Disabilities and recently served as a Senior Policy and Research Analyst at Westchester Institute for Human Development. He leaves behind his wonderful wife, Andrea, and two adult children.  Allen was blessed to contribute so much to society in the 33 years since that organ transplant and he will be sorely missed. 

In honor of Allen, I’m reprinting the blog post below.  Become an organ donor today.  

FROM THE ARCHIVES – September 2010

25 years ago nearly to the day, my father donated one of his kidneys to his brother.

What have you done today? Have you done everything you could? Could you have done better?

They may seem like unfair questions after the first sentence.

But tonight is the start of Yom Kippur – a Day of Atonement in the Jewish religion and one of the holiest days of the year.  And as part of the services tonight and tomorrow, Jews around the world will be asking tough questions of themselves all with the goal of being a better person next year.

And so, to honor my father and his heroism and provide education and insights in the employment law context in the way I know best, today’s post is all about organ donation and what employers need to know.  My goal is to begin a discussion this important issue in Connecticut.

FMLA is typically thought of in the medical context or childbirth/adoption process.  But Connecticut’s FMLA statute actually provides protection for those employees who become organ or bone marrow donors.

Donors are to be provided with the same amount of leave (16 weeks over a 2 year period) that, say, new mothers and fathers are accorded.

This is still a relatively new law — having been passed just six years ago fairly quietly.

If you’re an employer, what does this mean? Well, for one, your FMLA policies should be updated to let your employees know that they can be a living organ donor — and still have their job protected.

Employers can also update their FMLA forms to provide for organ donation is a category to check off. Many employers tend to use the Connecticut DOL’s forms (at the end of the regulations) — assuming that they are the most complete forms out there. But even those forms do not include language about being an organ donor.  (Don’t look to the US Department of Labor either; their forms just follow federal law, not state law.)

Enterprising employers might think to seek out the Connecticut DOL regulations for some guidance. But those employers would also be out of luck. Those regulations haven’t been recently updated and say nothing about how employers should handle such requests.  (Authors note: Still not updated in 2018!) Indeed, if you just read the regulations, you might even think that organ donors are not protected because language about “organ donors” isn’t even there.  (Conn. Regs. Sec. 31-51qq-7 is a perfect example.)

Perhaps a representative from the Department of Labor can take the opportunity to update their website on this category and provide additional information, in the absence of formal regulations.   Without that, organ donors may be left wondering if their jobs are protected if they choose to donate.

In the meantime, employers are on their own to take steps to educate their workforce about the protections offered under Connecticut’s FMLA for organ donation.  Employers should be sure their forms and policies are up-to-date and remove any barriers to organ donation that their employees might think exist.

Credit should be extended to the many employers that have done a lot in this area, including some local companies (Aetna and Bank of America).  The Workplace Partnership for Life initiative is truly a win-win campaign in which everyone can play a significant role in recruiting potential organ, tissue, marrow, and blood donors. Thousands of U.S. corporations, organizations, and associations are working to create a “donation friendly America” by joining the Workplace Partnership for Life.

(And, of course, if you haven’t become an organ donor, do it today.  You can download the form from the DMV off their website and mail it in. Or when you renew your license, you can become a donor then.  The DMV has a FAQ about the process on their website as well.)

And what of my father and his brother? They’re both living healthy and productive lives.  And we continue to celebrate many holidays together.

If through this post and actions by employers, we can ensure that another family has that same benefit, I think we can say that today was at least a pretty good day and we did what we could. Think about the simple changes that your workplace can make today.

Lawyers love their cocktail chatter. And at a recent bar event, an interesting hypothetical came up among lawyers:

Suppose an employee is trying to get pregnant and is thinking about infertility treatments.  She’s considering time off for rest, and perhaps even for some in vitro fertilization (IVF) appointments. Perhaps even the doctor has said that the employee needs “light duty” work during certain days.   Maybe things are a little more hazy; suppose the employee just says that they are undergoing infertility treatment and needs some time off.

Is the employer obligated to provide such an accommodation?

The answers aren’t entirely clear.

Let’s go through some of the laws that may be implicated:

Employment decisions related to infertility treatments implicate Title VII under limited circumstances. Because surgical impregnation is intrinsically tied to a woman’s childbearing capacity, an inference of unlawful sex discrimination may be raised if, for example, an employee is penalized for taking time off from work to undergo such a procedure.

In doing so, the EEOC has cited to a Seventh Circuit case from 2008 which also found that the employer was liable for discrimination when it terminated employee for taking time off to undergo IVF.

  • ADA – Infertility may be an impairment that may “substantially limit” the major life activity of reproduction. Why is this important? Because it may then qualify the employee under the ADA as having a “disability”.   So, in such an instance, employers should review the “reasonable accommodation” portion of the statute. And the employer may decide that a day off for IVF treatment in “reasonable” under the circumstances.
  • State Laws – Connecticut has comparable laws on the subject as well.  Thus, employers should do the same analysis for CTFMLA and comparable state anti-discrimination laws as well.

But despite this, there are some courts — including the Second Circuit — that have found that a woman suffering from infertility does not have a medical condition related to pregnancy under Title VII and the Pregnancy discrimination Act because infertility is a condition that also affects many men as well.

Employers that have employees undergoing treatment for infertility should tread carefully in this uncertain area of law.  Each set of facts should be looked at on a case-by-case basis and consider enlisting trusted legal counsel for advice.

Yesterday, one of the measures floating around the Connecticut General Assembly regarding Paid Family Medical Leave passed a key committee vote.

The bill still has a ways to go.  Indeed, as first reported by CT News Junkie, even the speaker of the house described it as a “work in progress”.  But now that’s closer to passage, it’s time employers start focusing on some of the key aspects – as framed currently.

The bill (House Bill 5387) would require all private sector employees to contribute 0.5 percent of their paycheck to a fund that they could then use if they needed to take Family Medical Leave. The leave could last up to 12 weeks and the pay would be capped at up to $1,000 per week.

The bill would radically change existing Connecticut FMLA by changing the number of employees required to be eligible for FMLA leave from 75 employees to just two. It would also, however, change the leave calculation period to be on a 12 weeks per 12 months basis, instead of the 16 weeks over 24 months basis that has been a challenge to reconcile with federal FMLA.

The bill would also expand allowable leave under FMLA to caring for grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, all other blood relatives, or those with a “close association … the equivalent of a family member.” This is far in excess of just the relatives covered under current law.

And if you’re wondering, there is no definition as to what would be “equivalent” to a family member.

As to the prospects for the bill, the CBIA has been opposed to it, in part because it’s not applicable to the public sector — and raises costs for both the state and for private employers.  A similar bill in the Senate was rejected by the committee because it would have required the state to commit to $20M in bonding.

But again, employers should be mindful of this bill as the short legislative session begins to wind down in the next few weeks.

 

Update August 16th: Late yesterday, I received further confirmation that the provisions regarding FMLA were withdrawn entirely from the proposed Democrat-led budget bill. Moreover, the General Assembly early this morning voted on a Republican version of the budget implementer, which now goes on to Governor Malloy (who has indicated he will veto the bill). That version did not contain language on the FMLA changes either. So for now, employers can stand down. However, employers should continue to track the changes both this year and next. FMLA changes may make a return at some point.   

Update at 2:06 p.m.: Since publishing this article, I’ve now heard from three people who work at or with the legislature that while they can’t find fault with my analysis of the proposed legislation as described below, the section on FMLA was intended to address a separate issue.   As a result, it appears that the section on CTFMLA changes discussed below may be withdrawn this afternoon.

What the motives were for this language are far beyond the scope of this blog; this blog has always tried to provide an apolitical analysis of the law and legislation.  For employers, just take note that the budget implementer bill language on FMLA is now likely to be withdrawn when the final bill is considered. 

Late this morning, the proposed bill implementing the state’s budget (a so-called “budget implementer”) was finally released. And like years past, the bill contains some nuggets that are seemingly unrelated to a budget.

As the proposal is a monstrous 925 pages (download here), I’m still reviewing it but employers in Connecticut need to be aware immediately about some proposed changes to the state’s FMLA provisions.  First, a caveat: This is still very much a work in progress so employers should keep a close eye and contact their legislators if interested.

  • First, the bill would expand the scope of relationships covered to include siblings and grandparents/grandkids.  Thus, if you needed to take time off to care for a grandparent, that would now be a covered leave.
  • Second, the bill would revise the definition of employer to now include the state, municipalities, public schools and private schools which means the CTFMLA would now apply to all of them.
  • But then things get even a bit more confusing. The bill changes the definition of “eligible employee” presumably to exclude state workers who are subject to collective bargaining. BUT the bill’s language is far more imprecise and would seemingly exclude ALL workers who are subject to collective bargaining (whether private or public).  Specifically, the definition of “eligible employee” would now mean an employee “who is exempt from collective bargaining…” It does not have the qualifier that perhaps the drafters intended, though, given the speed in which this has been prepared, readers take caution.
  • Next. and quite significantly, the bill would seemingly extend the leave parents get upon the birth of a child or for placement of a child for adoption of foster care.  Specifically, it indicates (line 8472!) that:

Leave under subparagraph (A) or (B) of subdivision (2) of subsection (a) of this section may be extended up to sixteen workweeks beyond the expiration of such leave due under subdivision (1) of subsection (a) of this section.

  • Thus, Connecticut employers would seemingly need to provide up to 32 weeks (16 + 16 more) of unpaid leave for new parents.
  • But the bill goes beyond that too — for leaves for birth, adoption placement, care of a family member or self or to serve as a organ or bone marrow donor, the bill expands the leave too.  Specifically, in line 8529:

An eligible employee may extend his or her personal leave provided under subparagraph (A), (B), (C), (D) or (E) of subdivision (2) of subsection (a) for up to twenty-four workweeks after the expiration of any accrued paid vacation leave, personal leave, or medical or sick leave with proper medical certification.

  • In addition, the bill goes on to add in line 8534, that for leaves for serious health conditions of self or family member, or for donor leaves:

The use of sick leave by an eligible employee for leave provided under subparagraph (C), (D) or (E) of subdivision (2) of subsection (a) of this section shall not be deemed an incident or occurrence under an absence control policy.

The changes are coming fast and furious and it is possible that this proposed bill won’t get passed in its current form.  It’s certainly far beyond the paid FMLA program that was originally under discussion by the legislature.  These changes would be effective in two weeks — October 1, 2017 — which doesn’t given employers almost any time to revise their policies or train their employees.

And I must confess that I’m still a bit surprised by the breadth of this and scratch my head as to whether this language was intended to mean what it appears to say.  I’d like to see a the office of legislative research recap this bill too.

In the meantime, I’m still reviewing the remainder of the bill for other changes relevant to private employers.  (It’s 925 pages and 26452 lines long so bear with me.)  Have you spotted anything else? Add it in the comments below.

There are many confusing aspects of employment law — not the least of which is that certain laws only apply to employers of a certain size.

For example, the federal age discrimination law, ADEA, only applies to a business if it has 20 or more employees who worked for the company for at least twenty calendar weeks (in this year or last).

Now in some instances, that might not matter in Connecticut because Connecticut’s general anti-discrimination laws generally (with exception) apply to employers of three or more employees.

Why does this matter? Because there are some aspects of this federal law (and others) that don’t apply to small employers.

One prime example of this is the requirement that employers comply with the Older Worker Benefit Protection Act, which is part of ADEA.  This law requires separation agreements to have certain conditions, including 21 days for the employee to consider the release.  But employers who are under 20 employees are not covered by ADEA and thus don’t need to follow this particular legal requirement (even if it may still be a good idea).

Another area that this comes up is in FMLA coverage.  Most people are aware that FMLA only applies to employers who have 50 or more employees.

But there is a secondary requirement that is often overlooked — that the employee asking for such leave be located in an office that itself has 50 or more employees within a 75 mile radius.

By way of example: Suppose an employer has 1000 employees, but only 25 located in Connecticut and there are no offices within 75 miles.  An employee has a serious health condition; is the employee eligible for FMLA leave?

The answer is no.  At least 50 employees must work for the employer within a 75 mile radius.

Practical Law had a good summary of this:  

Employers should analyze whether the employee meets the 50 employee and 75 miles requirement when the employee gives notice that leave is needed. An employee who is deemed eligible for FMLA leave continues to be eligible for the next 12 months even if the number of employees drops below 50. To determine whether an employee is eligible, the distance is based on:the employee’s physical work site using surface miles over public streets, roads, highways and waterways by the shortest route; or if an employee has no fixed work site, the employee’s work site is his home base, the site to which he reports or the site from which his work is assigned.

Now, nothing prevents an employer from giving all of its employees FMLA-leave, but they’re not required to.

Thus, employers who are in various locations should be sure to look at all the employer-size rules to figure how where they are covered and how. Because size really does matter.

GA2Today is the last day of the Connecticut General Assembly regular session.  So it’s a good time to take a look at some of the bills pending or passed.  Strangely, things seem pretty quiet on the employment law front.  But after the dust settles, I’ll have another update. Here is where we stand as of early this morning (Wednesday).

  • Last night, the Senate approved of the measure (House Bill 6668) expanding protections in the workplace for workers who are pregnant.  It was previously passed by the House.   I’ve covered the bill in depth before but it now goes on to the Governor for his signature.  The bill, if signed, would become effective October 1, 2017.
  • The House also passed a measure last night (H.B. 6907) that exempts certain professional drivers from coverage under the state’s unemployment law.. The exemption applies to drivers under a contract with another party if the driver meets certain conditions. The measure moves to the Senate but given the backlog of bills today, final passage is definitely unclear.
  • The Senate last night passed a measure (H.B. 7132) that streamlines procedures for filing workers compensation claims.  Currently, the law generally requires private-sector employees seeking workers’ compensation benefits to submit a written notice of claim for compensation to either a workers’ compensation commissioner or their employer’s last known residence or place of business. This bill requires private-sector employees who mail the notice to their employer to do so by certified mail. It also allows employers, except the state and municipalities, to post a copy of where employees must send the notice (presumably a specific address). The posting must be in a workplace location where other labor law posters required by the labor department are prominently displayed.  Under the bill, employers who opt to post such an address must also forward it to the Workers’ Compensation Commission, which must post the address on its website. Employers are responsible for verifying that the information posted at the workplace location is consistent with the information posted on the commission’s website.By law, within 28 days after receiving an employee’s written notice of claim, an employer must either (1) file a notice contesting liability with the compensation commissioner or (2) begin paying workers’ compensation benefits to the injured employee (and retain the ability to contest the claim for up to a year). Employers who do neither of these within 28 days of receiving the notice are conclusively presumed to have accepted the claim’s compensability. Under the bill, if an employer posts an address where employees must send a notice of claim, the countdown to the 28-day deadline begins on the date that the employer receives the notice at the posted address.The bill now moves to the Governor for his review and approval.
  • The General Assembly is also continuing to review a possible Paid Family and Medical Leave insurance scheme.  This bill (S.B. 1) is definitely one to watch over the next day and over any special session as well.
  • Senate Bill 929 would expand whistleblower protections under 31-51m. It has passed the Senate and is awaiting a vote in the House.  Existing law prohibits employers from discharging, disciplining, or otherwise penalizing an employee for certain whistleblowing activities, including reporting suspected illegal conduct to a public body.  This bill additionally prohibits employers from taking such actions against an employee for objecting or refusing to participate in an activity that the employee reasonably believes is illegal. Specifically, it applies to such beliefs about violations or suspected violations of state or federal laws or regulations, municipal ordinances or regulations, or court orders. The bill also (1) extends the time an employee has to file such a lawsuit and (2) adds to the possible remedies available to employees, including punitive damages in certain circumstances.

That seems to be it so far. A lot can change though today and employers should continue to be mindful of the shifting landscape. Even bills that appear “mostly dead” sometimes come back to life at the end — and particularly in special session as well. So stay tuned.

capitoldasIt’s a challenge for employers to keep up with changes to employment laws. What’s the current status? What do I need to change?

So, here are four quick things you can look at right now to ensure that you are up to compliance in Connecticut.

  1. Connecticut increased the minimum wage effective January 1, 2017.  It’s now up to $10.10 per hour. Are all your employees now at that minimum wage?
  2. Connecticut’s new Fair Change Employment Law went into effect January 1, 2017.  That means that most employers are not allowed to ask about a prospective employee’s prior arrests, criminal charges or convictions on an initial employment application unless the employer is required to do so by state or federal law, or a bond is required for the position for which the applicant is seeking.  When did you last update your employment application? 
  3. Last summer, Connecticut updated it’s state family & medical leave law to mirror federal FMLA law that allows an employee to take a leave for a “qualifying exigency”.  Recall too that Connecticut allows employees to take leave in order to serve as an organ or bone marrow donor. When did you last update your FMLA policy?
  4. Effective October 1, 2016, employers may now offer the use of payroll cards to deliver wages so long as the employee “voluntary and express authorizes” the payment of wages by that method and the employer provides a “clear and conspicuous notice” to employees about the use of it.  Have you updated your notices and have your received authorizations from your employees on the use of payroll cards?

 

capitoldasThe Connecticut General Assembly is back in session and with significant budget deficits looming, it’s not going to be an easy year for legislators.

From a labor and employment law session, once again it will be interesting to see what will be seriously considered.

A Bloomberg Law article late last week suggested that Democrats in several states, including Connecticut, are planning bills to try to replicate the federal overtime-pay overhaul that has been held up in federal court.   Without citing names, the article states:

Democrats in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, Wisconsin and Michigan said they plan to introduce bills modeled on Obama’s reform, which would have made millions more white-collar workers eligible for overtime.

A cursory look at the Bill Record book for the Labor & Public Employees committee fails to show such a bill yet, but it’s still early. At this point in the legislative cycle, only early “proposed” bills are officially on record. That, of course, doesn’t mean that other draft bills aren’t being floated out there.

So among the proposed bills, what else is out there being considered for 2017?

  • As expected, a paid family & medical leave bill is definitely on the table now, after being looked at for the last 18 months or so.  Indeed, it is titled “Proposed Senate Bill No. 1″ and is co-sponsored by several senators.  Having a bill marked as “One” indicates that this will be a priority in the current session.  The details, however, are still being worked on.
  • Another bill that already has garnered widespread support including from the House leadership is Proposed House Bill 5591.   While again, the details are still forthcoming, the bill would “require employers, including the state and political subdivisions, to provide equal pay to employees in the same workplace who perform comparable duties.”  What’s still unknown is why this is being sought, just 2 years after another pay equity bill titled “An Act on Pay Equity and Fairness” was passed. Time will tell, but expect to see more on this bill soon.
  • Another bill concerning “Various Pay Equity and Fairness Matters” (not to be confused with prior bills) has also been proposed by new Representative Derek Slap from West Hartford.  That bill would mirror some other states that have recently passed bills further limiting what prospective employers can ask applicants. Specifically, this Proposed House Bill 5210 would:

(1) Prohibit employers from asking a prospective employee’s wage and salary history before an employment offer with compensation has been negotiated, provided prospective employees may volunteer information on their wage and salary history,

(2) Prohibit employers from using an employee’s previous wage or salary history as a defense in an equal pay lawsuit,

(3) Permit an employer to have an affirmative defense in an equal pay lawsuit if it can demonstrate that, within three years prior to commencement of the lawsuit, the employer completed a good faith self-evaluation of its pay practices and can demonstrate that reasonable progress has been made towards eliminating gender-based wage differentials, and

(4) Protect seniority pay differentials from adverse adjustments for time spent on leave due to pregnancy-related conditions or protected parental, family and medical leave.

Other proposed bills can be found here including an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

One important note: The state Senate has now split 18-18 among Democrats and Republicans.  Thus, I think it’s fair to expect that there will be less laws that impact employers than in year’s past.  The CBIA has an update from a business perspective here.

depressOver the years, one of my favorite employment law blogs has been Jeff Nowak’s FMLA Insights.  He really takes a deep dive into the subject and I’ve had the opportunity over the years to exchange ideas with Jeff.

Recently, he alerted me to a new federal court decision in Connecticut that may have a significant impact for employers struggling with FMLA claims.

Rather than duplicate his post, I’m going to suggest reading it now.

The TL;DR note is that the issue he tackles is whether an employer can ask for more information from a medical specialist rather than some vague notes from the primary care physician filling out a FMLA certification form.  In some circumstances, the answer is now “yes”.

The case, Bento v. City of Milford, can be downloaded here.

The court was asked to look at two issues:

First on the initial FMLA certification — was the employer justified in asking for more specific information from a specialist? The court said that because the physician referenced a review from a psychologist, the employer was justified in following up with the specialist to clear up confusion that the physician’s notes brought up.

Second, when the employee wanted to come back to work, the employer was justified in delaying her return to get a more specific fitness for duty certification.  As Jeff notes: A fitness-for-duty certification can seek two things: “1) Confirm that the employee is able to resume work; and 2)Specifically address the employee’s ability to perform the essential functions of the employee’s job.”  A vague note that the employee could return to work was not enough, the court said.

Rather “the employer has the right to insist that the health care provider review the job description for the position and confirm that the employee can perform those job duties.”

 

The decision is a big win for employers in Connecticut who struggle with FMLA notes that are vague and gives some teeth to the notion that employers can push back.  This is particularly true, I sense, in situations where employees provide a note that they need leave for “job stress”.  Employers — in consulting with employment counsel — should consider seeking more information in response to ambiguity when it comes to FMLA certifications or return to work notes.

I thank Jeff for his tip to this important case.