Update: As noted below, the redesigned blog should be up at some point Tuesday, perhaps late – a new post will follow thereafter.  If it’s Tuesday and you’re seeing this blog post and the old design first, it’s coming later in the day. Promise.  

Every good superhero story needs an origin story.  I’m not a superhero but I’ve got a super origin story to tell.

Not a Daredevil

You may have heard it before, but humor me. I’m turning 10.

You see it was ten years ago, in a hotel conference room in where my life changed.

Of course, like lots of such “a-ha” moments that people have, I didn’t realize it at the time.

(Pause here to acknowledge that there are plenty of moments you know are going to be big: kids, marriages, your first iPhone).

I was at the Spring Conference for the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division in, of all places, Canada.  Montreal, to be specific.

But I woke up early, on a few hours sleep, to hear from this guy, Kevin O’Keefe, who had this company called “LexBlog”.

He talked about how lawyers could set up a law blog. Sounded interesting.

At the time, I kinda thought I was late to the party.  But I had long since wanted to do some type of writing – a remnant from my days as an editor on my college newspaper.

If you had asked me, I probably would’ve said that I just wanted to have my own New York Times op-ed piece.

(Pause here for having to explain to my kids how we used to read The New York Times in paper form etc.)

And so, over the summer months of 2007, I worked with Kevin’s company to design a blog.

What should it be called? Well, lawyers should have a geographic area and a practice area, I heard Kevin say to me.

What do you think about “Connecticut Employment Law Blog”, I asked? Sure, that sounds specific enough.

(Pause here to reflect on names I could’ve used, like “Dan’s Uber Employment Law Blog” or “Snapchatting About Employment Law”.)

And then in September 2007 — ten years ago this month — I was ready to launch.  You can see my first “Welcome” post here.

For the first few years, I used to joke that the blog didn’t make me a better lawyer — only “Google” search results suggested I was by moving this blog to the top of the charts.

(Pause here to say my best party trick is telling people to Google “Connecticut Employment Law”. There’s now something called “EmploymentLawHandbook” that pretends to be number 1 sometimes– someone tell Google.)

But after 10 years, I’m not quite sure that’s accurate anymore. I’ve come to conclude that the blog has improved my life in immeasurable ways, which is why it’s so valuable as a “origin” story.

Here are three things I think about:

  1. I’ve met amazing people through the blog. Readers, fellow lawyer bloggers, special clients, technology people, reporters, and more.  Perhaps I would’ve met a few of them somehow, but the blog has expanded my own horizons. And in turn, I’ve learned a lot more than I ever would’ve though about employment law, the state of the legal profession, and myself.
  2. Writing nearly every day helps shape your own writer’s voice.  You start to hear yourself when you write and, like riding a bike, it just gets easier the more you do it.  That, in turn, has helped my legal writing as well.  I’ve become less afraid to experiment more with my legal writing. To write shorter sentences. To speak directly to the reader. To be direct.
  3. Rather than be “late” to the party, I’ve come to realize that I was early. In fact, when Twitter and Facebook took off, I wasn’t nearly as afraid to use them for professional and personal purposes.  Instead, I realized that they were opportunities to expand my network and learn more from others.

The last time this blog was redesigned was back in 2011.  That is the look you still see today, Monday.

But with some luck and a lot of perseverance (as well as continued help from Lexblog — which has become a partner to me), this blog gets relaunched tomorrow.

What will that look like? What will happen? Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post where I look at where this blog goes forward.

Day One of the new Connecticut Employment Law Blog begins tomorrow. (Probably late in the day, tomorrow if you’re really paying attention.)

DSC_0128Hard to believe, but this week marks the ninth anniversary of the Connecticut Employment Law Blog.

I’m pretty sure that’s 72 years old in “blog” years.  Or dog years. I forget which one.

Coincidentally, this week I stumbled across an old information sheet I filled out for LexBlog (my blog hosting company) in the summer of 2007 with my goals and vision for the blog.  I was asked to write about the “subject and purpose of the blog”.

Here’s what I wrote:

This blog will focus on new and noteworthy developments in the labor & employment law field in Connecticut.  While, at times, it may comment on national employment law topics that may be of interest to Connecticut audience, it will address employment law topics that may be of interest for employers in Connecticut.

The purpose of the blog is educate and inform individuals in the state, while providing a platform for  a discussion of new and noteworthy cases, decisions or statutes.  It will address federal and Connecticut laws, and will highlight decisions that discuss certain areas.

It will address wage & hour decisions, at-will employment employment, discrimination and harassment, and labor relations. While not providing specific advice, it may provide general commentary to employers on topics of interest, particularly to in-house employment lawyers, labor relations professionals and human resources personnel.

I have to say — nine years (and many hundreds of blog posts) later and I think this holds up very well! Nice to know I’ve remained true to my original vision.

Of course, in the interests of full disclosure and just in case you think I was doing this purely for unselfish reasons, I indicated that a “secondary” purpose of the blog was “to increase my exposure and profile in Connecticut.”

I’m very comfortable in acknowledging that has happened too.  (Thanks Google search!)

In the last week, I’ve gotten multiple e-mails from respected attorneys in the state (on both sides of litigation) thanking me for continuing to write. I love those e-mails.

Of course, I’ve also received such e-mails in the last week that said “Useful analysis! For my two cents , people are wanting a AZ CRF2M1 , my colleagues saw a blank form here!” And this classic e-mail, “firsttly thanks to all valuable information great post.nice post dfftheevege ssasup, opsappsmo”.

Ah, spam e-mail — don’t ever change.

And so, this post ultimately is nothing more than a sincere thank you post.

Thank you for continuing to read. Thank you for continuing to encourage me to write.

And a big thank you to my current law firm, Shipman & Goodwin, for being so supportive. And a thank you to my former colleagues who put up with my blogging when it was still this big unknown.

Finally, a thanks to my wife who has politely managed my endless droning on about the blog with a “uh-huh” more times than I can count.

Let’s say we continue on to a big ten year celebration next year and see where we go from there?

(If you really want to see something scary, check out this interview with Lexblog from December 2007 too.)

Somewhat quietly (at least to me), the Connecticut Department of Labor has issued updated guidance regarding compliance with the state’s Paid Sick Leave law.

But employers who have been following the developments in this area — namely the changes to the law by the legislature — won’t be surprised much by the minor changes that have been made.

The changes to the guidance are essentially in conformity with the revisions to the law.

For example, to determine if an employer is subject to the law, the number of employees that an employer has on the payroll as of October 1st will be used.  It also notes that “radiologic technicians” have been added to the coverage of the law, consistent with the changes.

Nevertheless, if any employers have been using the previous guidance, it’s time to use this useful new resource and discard the prior guidance.

Notably, the CTDOL has also updated their posters for Paid Sick Leave for employers to use.  These new posters should be displayed immediately by employers in place of the old ones.

 

The moment when you learn your wife has cancer gets imprinted on your brain in a hurry.

At least for me, it did.

That happened back in February of this year.  I haven’t talked about it on the blog yet for several reasons including that my wife is much more private online than I am.

But she suggested that I talk about it publicly on the blog now, if only to let others to know that they are not alone in having cancer affect them or a family member.  And to raise awareness of this very common type of cancer.

You see, my wife is young — if you still count the early 40s as young — with no history of colorectal cancer in the family.  So, when she was diagnosed, it came as a shock to her. And our entire family.

As the much-used phrase goes, life hasn’t been the same since then.

Getting diagnosed with cancer is both scary and frustrating.  Scary for the obvious reasons, but also frustrating, because medicine moves at its own pace. Doctors are careful and cautious, making sure to get the treatment plan right.  And treatments typically take many months.

It’s also both physically and mentally exhausting not only to the person who is diagnosed, but to the entire family.

My wife’s cancer wasn’t caught early, but the doctors told us that they believed they didn’t catch it too late either.  However, they outlined a long and fairly new treatment protocol that we have been living with ever since the diagnosis.

We have been fortunate to work with local doctors at Hartford Hospital (a terrific client of my firm as it turns out) and super specialists in New York at Memorial Sloan Kettering.  She underwent four grueling months of chemotherapy earlier this year followed by nearly 2 more months of chemo with radiation.

That, however, was just the warm up.

Early this month, she underwent a planned 15-hour complex surgery with three surgical teams at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.  Her recovery from such a major surgery has been slow, but steady.  She finally returned home in the last few days for further rest and recovery.  The care we received at MSKCC was outstanding.

And yet, despite the difficult nature of the surgery, we are thankful for the news we recently received: After several more weeks of recovery, the doctors have given her (and us — since cancer really is a “family” disease, as the doctors have reminded us time and again) a very good prognosis going forward.

With Thanksgiving upon us, we certainly have a lot to be thankful for.

Careful readers might notice a lot more posts from my colleagues here at Shipman & Goodwin this year. That’s not an accident. My colleagues have been so supportive in both substantive work and for the blog.  I’m so thankful for their support.

I’m also thankful for the support of countless others who have brought meals to our house, or helped in other ways.  And thankful for the world-class care my wife has been receiving both here in Connecticut and in New York.

I’m thankful as well to have this bully pulpit.  I hope to use it in an upcoming post or two to talk about the employment law issues related to this topic from a more personal experience.

But my wife didn’t want this post to be about her.

As I said at the top, we wanted to raise awareness of the issue.  Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.  Over 135,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year alone.

Yet, compared with other types of cancer, it receives less publicity. I won’t debate the causes here, but it’s time we recognize how serious this disease is here in the United States.

So here are three things you can do right now.

First, get screened for colorectal cancer.  Make your appointment today if necessary.  From a colonoscopy to at home tests, screening remains the single best way to beat this disease. When caught early, the survival rate is significantly higher.  And you’re never too young to start thinking about it.  Colonoscopies are quick and painless.  If Katie Couric can do it, so can you.

And trust me, colonoscopies are a lot easier than dealing with months of chemotherapy.

Second, follow one of the many groups focused on this issue such as the Colon Cancer Alliance.  Take the time to understand this issue.  And the spread to word to others.  And please consider donating to them as well.  There may not be an ice bucket challenge associated with it, but you’re over 25 times more likely to get diagnosed with colorectal cancer as you are to be diagnosed with ALS.

Third, and here is the lawyer in me speaking, consider updating your will, health care proxy, and other estate planning documents — particularly if you’re otherwise healthy. You don’t want to have to worry about them when you get diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.  My firm does this work, but there are many others who provide this service as well. And, at a minimum, consider one of the self-help legal sites to get the basics done if you don’t think you can afford to pay an attorney.

My posts here will remain somewhat sporadic for a while as I balance being a caregiver with work obligations as well.  But if this post causes just one of you to take the action steps outlined above, I’ll know that we can make something positive happen from such a tough diagnosis.

And if we can make something good happen from this post, I will be thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Jon Hyman, who runs the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, dropped a couple of posts last week on employee’s rights to, um, use the bathroom.

He started with a post on the right to a workplace bathroom and related breaks, and followed it up on whether employees have a right to be paid during their bathroom breaks (in case you were wondering, they do).

Of course, bathroom talk has appeared on this blog too, in posts here, for example.

But besides the federal laws on the subject (which state that “Toilet facilities, in toilet rooms separate for each sex, shall be provided in all places of employment”), what about the Connecticut ones? Well, it turns out that our older state laws on the subject have yet to be, ahem, flushed down the toilet.

For example, Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 31-36 mandates that the DOL can require owners of “any foundry in which ten or more persons are employed” to provide for a toilet room. With running water.  (In case you were too embarassed to ask, a foundry is a factory that produces metal castings.)  That’s not likely to apply to many employers in Connecticut anymore.

Similarly, owners of “tobacco plantations” that have 25 or more employees, must provide private toilet accommodations for both sexes — or be penalized between $20-100 (Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 31-38.)  Of course, while Connecticut still does have a decent shade tobacco crop, you don’t hear a lot about such crops anymore.

Railroad employees — in a statute dating back to 1959 — are similarly entitled to “sanitary” facilities and the Connecticut DOL is to conduct inspections once a year on such sanitary facilities.  (Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 31-38a.)

The Connecticut Department of Labor has also issued some guidelines, such as for Industrial Health Facilities that require that “Toilet Facilities shall be provided” in the facility or nearby.

On a related note, Connecticut did pass a law a few years back that gives members of the public some access to employee restrooms in retail establishments but there’s no requirement that such restrooms exist in the first place.

 

The Connecticut Appellate Court yesterday released two notable employment law decisions. They won’t become “official” until April 30, 2013, so you have some time to digest them.  I’ll cover one today and leave the other for a future post (though if you’re really curious you can read it here.)

To me, the more interesting of the two is Langello v. West Haven Board of Education, which decided an issue that you would think had long since been decided. But this is Connecticut; appellate court guidance is few and far between.

The issue: How do both the Teacher Tenure Act and Connecticut’s Fair Employment Practices Act (which prohibits discrimination on the basis of, among other reasons, disability) co-exist with each other and what is the interplay between the two?

Why is this important? Because the Teacher Tenure Act provides that a tenured teacher may be discharged for a “disability” or “other due and sufficient cause”.  Thus, put another way, can a school district fire a teacher because she has a disability without violating the state law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability?

To this, the court answers “yes” so long as the proper questions have been answered.

In keeping with the public policy that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, and our Supreme Court’s analysis of the legislative intent behind § 46a-60 (a) (1), we conclude that any teacher who is terminated pursuant to the Tenure Teacher Act enjoys the protections of the Fair Employment Practices Act.

A contrary conclusion—that a tenured teacher who is discharged from her employment because of her disability pursuant to § 10-151 (d) (4) is outside of the protections of § 46a-60 would thwart the purpose of the Fair Employment Practices Act.

To ensure compliance with the purpose of the Fair Employment Practices Act, a teacher who is discharged for any of the reasons enumerated in § 10-151 (d) must be afforded the protections of § 46a-60. A board of education, if it seeks to terminate a teacher’s employment pursuant to the Teacher Tenure Act for reason of a disability, must follow the mandates of the Fair Employment Practices Act and show that the teacher was unable to perform the essential functions of her profession with or without reasonable accommodation.

As to the application to the case at hand, the court fairly easily disposes of the teacher’s claim that the employer failed to show that she could not perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation.

What’s the takeaway here?

For school districts, this case is a crucial one. Any attempt to invoke the provisions of the Teacher Tenure Act by terminating a teacher for a disability, should be reviewed carefully to determine if the employee can perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation. Without that analysis, school boards are leaving themselves open to a challenge of the type raised in this case.

Finally, today is Election Day.  

And while the pundits tonight will all look forward to what the next four years might bring, it’s worth taking a quick peek back at Obama’s (first?) four years with a review of some of the posts from 2008-9.

Before his term, there were predictions that he would be good for employers, or bad for employers.   But I think that its fair to say that, with the notable exception of the NLRB, there really haven’t been a lot of changes to employment laws for the last four years.

You can chalk it up to a variety of reasons — bad economy, Washington gridlock, to name a few — but compared with the prior four years, in my view, employers haven’t had to worry about a lot of federal legislative developments.  (The rise in social media’s impact on employment, I would argue, has been much more significant.)

In 2008 alone, you had the Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act and the expansion of FMLA for military leave.  You also had new regulations for the Family Medical Leave Act.   

Remember what Obama pledged to get done?  A look at what happened showed a stalling out on a variety of issues.  Here are a few examples:

•Obama and Biden will strengthen the ability of workers to organize unions. He will fight for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. (NLRB strengthened though impact lessoned as various proposals have been tied up in courts; EFCA never passed and has no reasonable likelihood of doing so)

•Obama and Biden will raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation. (While the minimum wage did increase in July 2009 to $7.25, that was as a result of a 2007 compromise bill. No further changes to minimum wage have been made since.)

•Obama and Biden will expand FMLA to cover businesses with 25 or more employees. They will expand the FMLA to cover more purposes as well, including allowing workers to take leave for elder care needs; allowing parents up to 24 hours of leave each year to participate in their children’s academic activities; and expanding FMLA to cover leave for employees to address domestic violence. (No substantive changes to FMLA have been made.)

• As president, Obama will initiate a strategy to encourage all 50 states to adopt paid-leave systems. (Connecticut did pass paid sick leave, but no strong federal support was seen.)

Other bills that have not yet passed include the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit employers from discriminating against employees because of their sexual orientation. 

So what did occur? Among other things: Passage of The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (though query whether this has had much impact in the workplace).  And nursing mothers received additional federal protections under “Obamacare”.  The EEOC also released new guidance on the use of criminal records and credit reports.   But overall, the impacts on employers have probably been far less than forecasted.

What do the next four years hold? For that, we’ll just have to wait until tonight.

The American Bar Association’s Labor & Employment Law Annual Conference is going on right now in Atlanta, Georgia.  As I’ve recapped on this blog before (here, for example), there are some terrific programs and educational opportunities there. 

I wasn’t able to make it down this year, but due to the wonders of technology, I’ve been able to get a lot of the benefits of it without being there.

Why? Two reasons, which I hope you’ll find useful too.

First, and most importantly, all of the conference materials are available online. For free.  And to top it off, no ABA membership is required. 

It’s a great service and one that you ought to take advantage of. Why? Because there are some very good papers that you can download.  Here are some highlights:

These are terrific resources for the in-house lawyer in particular but human resources personnel may get a lot out of it as well.

Second, I also have been following the conference along on Twitter. How so? By doing a search for a hashtag (or keyword).  Do a search for “#abalel” and you will find dozens of tweets about things going on in the conference. You can also follow the ABA Labor & Employment Law Section at @abalel. 

 

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to speak to the HR Compliance Conference in San Francisco about legal issues related to hiring. 

California’s New Password Law

In some ways, everything old is new again on this topic.  Issues like the Fair Credit Reporting Act, or the EEOC’s guidance on criminal background checks, have been around for years yet are taking new relevance in the age of Google and social media.

One new issue, however, is whether employers can or should seek username and password information from applicants.

Bozeman, Montana attempted to do this several years ago.  It was a bad idea then, and remains so today.

But a few states have now decided to pass laws on the subject too.  California is the biggest and most recent to do so — and employers nationwide should keep an eye out for more developments. 

For those in California, employers can ask for such information when conducting an investigation — that’s good for current employees — but for applicants, asking for usernames and passwords should, overall, remain off-limits. 

What’s the practical implications for employers? Review your hiring procedures and social media policies to prohibit managers from requiring applicants to disclose certain information and to prohibit “shoulder surfing” (that is, requiring an applicant to log in, while the employer looks over the employee’s shoulder). 

And if you have offices in California, be aware of the new law which becomes effective January 1, 2013.