The Connecticut General Assembly is already busy with a full compliment of employment law bills under consideration.  At this point, it seems likely that several will pass in one form or another and thus employers should be playing close attention to the developments.

Here are a few of the Senate ones that I’m watching (I’ll tackle the House bills in tomorrow’s post – now available here):

  • Senate Bill 1 – This is the Paid Family and Medical Leave bill that has been kicking around for a few years.  Late last week, the Labor & Public Employees Committee issued a new draft.  There are a LOT of details to this but in essence, the bill would have two major changes. First, it would create a new paid family leave insurance program that would take contributions from employees and distribute those contributions to employees who need to take paid leave — similar to a workers’ compensation program.  Second, the bill would make significant changes to the existing Connecticut Family Leave law, to broaden the law’s application to all types of employers and broaden when an employee may take the leave as well.  More to come as this bill progresses.  A hearing on the bill is scheduled for February 14, 2019.
  • Proposed Senate Bill 64 – This is a rehash of a bill that would limit so-called “captive audience” meetings.  The details are still in flux but the Labor & Public Employee committee voted to draft the bill on February 7, 2019.  I’ve discussed prior versions of the bill here, including the Attorney General’s concern that such a bill may not be legal.
  • Proposed Senate Bill 358 – This proposed bill would provide employees with time off to vote in elections.  The committee voted to draft the bill late last month but there’s no indication yet whether this would apply to all local elections (such as a town budget referendum) or just broad state elections.
  • Proposed Senate Bill 697 – This proposed bill, which is scheduled for a hearing on February 14, 2019 and is lacking details as of yet, would “place restrictions on workplace nondisclosure agreements to prohibit the silencing of victims in the workplace and to prevent sexual harassment by repeat offenders.”  This would seem to go further than the recent federal law which limited tax deductions for confidential sexual harassment settlements.
  • Proposed Senate Bill 700 – This bill would allow for electronic signatures by employees in the restaurant industry when distinguishing between service and non-service duties. This bill is also scheduled for a hearing on February 14th.  It would be a small but significant help to small employers who have trouble keeping up with the record-keeping requirements in this area.
  • Proposed Senate Bill 764 – This bill would prohibit on-call shift scheduling — something that has been under attack in prior sessions as well.  Specifically, the bill would “prohibit the employment practice of requiring an employee to call an employer prior to a scheduled shift to confirm that the employee is needed for the shift, and to require employers to give an employee at least twenty-four hours prior notice if the employee is not needed to work a scheduled shift.” The Labor & Public Employee committee voted to draft this proposal so watch for a full-fledged bill soon.
  • Proposed Senate Bill 765 – And then there’s this proposed bill scheduled for a hearing on February 14, 2019.  Right now, it states that the law would ensure all employees “receive fair and equal pay for equal work”.  What that means for employers is anyone’s guess right now.

This is about a busy a listing as you can reasonably expect to see from our part-time legislature.  It’s still early but that’s just the half of it.  I’ll tackle the House bills in my next post.

The results are in: The General Assembly and the Governor’s office have been caught up in the Blue Wave in this state.  Instead of a split, the Democratic party will control a sizable majority in both houses and the Governor’s Office.

But with Governor-Elect Ned Lamont coming from a business-side perspective and touting the need to grow business in Connecticut, what are we likely to see in the next legislative session?

Already legislative leaders are talking about a push for a series of progressive-leaning bills that have been held up the last few years. The CT Mirror has this initial report:

A day after Connecticut experienced its own blue wave in the midterm elections, Senate and House Democratic leaders said addressing a minimum wage increase, tolls, and paid family medical leave will likely be among the top priorities the majority takes on in the upcoming legislative session.

Yes, two out of the three items cited are big employment law topics. Indeed, paid family leave has been talked about for several years.

Back in 2015, I noted what the contours of such a package might look like.  

Beyond minimum wage and paid family leave, what else should employers be on the watch for? A new bill on sexual harassment prevention training and perhaps even an expansion for claims of sexual harassment isn’t out of the question either.

The bill died on the floor earlier this year, but it’s hard not to think that with sexual harassment claims in the state on the rise, a bill on the topic isn’t far behind.

My early prediction? The 2019 legislative session is going to be a busy one.  Additional bills on strengthening unions may ultimately be on the table.

With a Blue Wave in the state, employers should be mindful that elections have consequences and those are going to be seen in 2019 at the General Assembly.

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.

 

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.

trumpphotoEach election cycle, I hope that employment law issues will move front and center to the Presidential campaign.

And each cycle, I’m slightly disappointed that such issues only get short shrift.  Sigh.

But as I’ve done before, it would be nice to fantasize about employment law questions that could be posed to the candidates at the upcoming Presidential debates.

So, just in case Lester Holt or the other moderators are brainstorming ideas on the internet, here are three questions I’d like to see asked of Donald J. Trump.

(I’ll have a followup post for Hillary Clinton.)

  1. The U.S. Department of Labor has recent proposed raising the salary threshold requirements for employees to receive overtime. As a result, millions more workers may start to get overtime in December of this year.  But this week, various states and business groups have filed suit to block its implementation. You have previously said that you support a rollback of these new rules.  Why? What specific changes would you propose to the overtime rules if you were going to roll back the current proposal.  Be specific.
  2. You recently said you would advise your daughter Ivanka to “find another career or find another company” if she faced the same harassment as alleged in the sexual harassment lawsuit against former Fox chief Roger Ailes.  Can you explain why you think your daughter should leave a company if faced with harassment? Doesn’t the company bear some responsibility to its employees to stop the harassment and ensure a safe working environment for its employees?
    Followup question: Given the allegations against Roger Ailes and Fox’s payment of $20M to resolve allegations by one of its former employees of sexual harassment, how do you justify consulting with him and what message (if any) do you think it sends to your female workers on your staff?
  3. States like Connecticut have passed a version of Paid Sick Leave. Do you support such a law? As a followup, you recently said you would support a six-week paid maternity leave program.  Why are fathers excluded from your proposal? Do you think fathers should have any paid time off after the birth or adoption of a child?

 

 

USDOL Headquarters in DC
USDOL Headquarters in DC

Over the years in the employment law “blawgosphere” (isn’t there a better term by now?), I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with and conferring with several other attorneys who blog. One of those is Jeff Nowak, whose FMLA Insights blog has become a go-to place on all things FMLA.

So, it was no surprise yesterday that Jeff was one of the first to talk about a new FMLA notice that will be issued by the U.S. Department of Labor that can be used interchangeably with the existing notice. He also added this scoop:

After today’s announcement, I had the opportunity to connect with the DOL’s Branch Chief for FMLA, Helen Applewhaite, about the timing and obligations to post the new General FMLA Notice. She confirmed that employers would be allowed to post either the current poster or the new version. In other words, employers will not be required to change the current poster. For those that want to use the new poster, I will post a link as soon as DOL releases it.

Jeff also linked to a new employer’s guide to the FMLA, a companion of sorts to a 2012 release by the DOL for employees.   This 71-page guide will be a good starting point for employers on the basics of the law but it leaves more complex issues about the law unanswered.  For more on it, see Jeff’s post and a followup post by Jon Hyman, of the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog this morning as well.

Connecticut employers though should exercise extreme caution about using this guide as a bible.  As most employers in Connecticut are aware, there are significant differences between Connecticut’s FMLA law and the federal counterpart.  And because employers with 75 or more employees in Connecticut are covered by both, there is a significant risk that employers using only the federal FMLA guide will get the law wrong.

Connecticut has historically posted a comparison of the two laws that is helpful, again as a starting point.  But that comparison is now 17 years old and doesn’t address many of the current issues or things such as a military exigency leave that have occurred through changes to the FMLA law over the years.

So what’s an employer in Connecticut to do? Ignore it? Read it?

Probably a little of both.

There are certainly items helpful in both guides but, in my view, they aren’t a substitute for talking with counsel about more complicated issues such as intermittent leave and FMLA’s interaction with the ADA and Connecticut’s Paid Sick Leave law.

If nothing else, be aware that when FMLA leaves do occur, there may be more to the solution than what is posted in the USDOL’s employer guide.

 

GA2The Connecticut General Assembly is finalizing its budget implementation bill today and suffice to say that there are more than a few surprises in there. (CT News Junkie first highlighted it in a tweet, it should be noted.)

For employers, buried deep in the bill is Section 422 entitled: “PAID FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE IMPLEMENTATION”.  This seems to revive a paid family and medical leave program that was thought to be shot down earlier this session.

What does it do? It starts a framework for paid leave to be implemented similar to other payroll deduction services.

According to the summary of the legislation:

The bill requires the labor commissioner, in consultation with the state treasurer, state comptroller, and commissioner of administrative services, to establish the procedures needed to implement a paid family and medical leave (FML) program.

The labor commissioner must contract with a consultant to create an implementation plan for the program by October 1, 2015. At minimum, the plan must:

1. include a process to evaluate and establish mechanisms, through consultation with the above officials and the Department of Revenue Services, by which employees must contribute a portion of their salary or wages to a paid FML program by possibly using existing technology and payroll deduction systems;

2. identify mechanisms for timely claim acceptance; claims processing; fraud prevention; and any staffing, infrastructure and capital needs associated with administering the program;

3. identify mechanisms for timely distributing employee compensation and any associated staffing, infrastructure, and capital needs; and

4. identify funding opportunities to assist with start-up costs and program administration, including federal funds.
The bill also requires the labor commissioner, by October 1, 2015 and in consultation with the treasurer, to contract with a consultant to perform an actuarial analysis and report on the employee contribution level needed to ensure sustainable funding and administration for a paid FML compensation program.

The labor commissioner must submit a report on the implementation plan and actuarial analysis to the Labor and Appropriations committees by February 1, 2016.

But wait! There’s more. There’s a whole series of changes to the CHRO that are added in as well in Sections 71-87.

As for those changes, indeed, several are technical, but some are not. For example, under this legislation, a commission legal counsel could intervene in a public hearing or appeal without consent of the parties.   It would also limit the avenues for Complainants to reopen complaints that have been pending over two years.

The bill also creates a “Low Wage Employer Advisory Board” in Section 497 which would review the impact on employees of paying “low wages”.

My cursory review of the bills shows other provisions relating to “labor peace agerements” for certain state projects, and a minimum $15/hour wage on certain contracts.  For employers, this is definitely a bill to review today.

Given that this bill was released at the last minute and contains all sorts of compromises, I think its unlikely that it will be amended at this late stage, but stay tuned over the next 36 hours to see what’s next!

Here we go.

Last December, I talked about how a legislative proposal to bring paid family and medical leave to Connecticut was likely.

Turns out, not only was it likely, but that there would be a big public relations push on it as well.

The bill is still in its formative stages at the legislature, but the essence of the proposal is an employee-funded system with employers withholding a percentage of the employee’s pay.  The Hartford Courant reported on this push this week.

In yesterday’s CT News Junkie, Carolyn Treiss, the Executive Director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, posted a notable piece on why the time is right for paid family & medical leave.

The Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) and the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF), two organizations that worked on the original FMLA legislation, are teaming up in leading the charge on this expanded version of family and medical leave, because women are still the primary caregivers in times of need. To be sure, paid leave would benefit everyone, regardless of gender. But the reality is that too many women of childbearing age see their careers derailed just as they are taking off. Women in their mid-20s to early 40s are the demographic employers seek most often, and yet the biological clock has its own imperatives. And what of women at the prime of their careers who must increasingly act on behalf of aging parents, or who suddenly find themselves dealing with an illness of their own (or that of a spouse)? It’s hard to “lean in” when there’s no employer-sponsored provision to lean against.

The CBIA has previously issued a report noting that this type of program would be similar to an unemployment compensation scheme — and very expensive to implement.

I’ll be talking about this and more at a presentation tonight at the Connecticut Bar Association’s Labor & Employment Committee meeting. My talk — really more of a discussion — will be on three “hot” items in employment law for 2015.  Hope to see you there.

For the rest of you, keep a close eye on this important legislative development this year.

 

The title of the post is a bit misleading because the answer to the question is, at this point, unanswerable. 

In what ways do we measure success under Connecticut’s Paid Sick Leave law? The number of employees who have used it? The people who didn’t get sick as a result? The overall flu rate?

Of course, that hasn’t stopped some from trying. Last week, a survey released from the Employment Policies Institute claimed that businesses have taken “labor-saving steps to adapt to the law’s costs — with consequences for employers and employees both.”

Specifically, the survey claimed that some employers “scaled back employee hours, cut wages and canceled plans to expand as a result of the law.”

But even that survey should be taken with a grain of salt since, by its own terms, it may not be “representative” of all employers. 

Unfortunately, it may be some time before we understand the full impact of Paid Sick Leave.  Even now, 20 years after the passage of the FMLA, its benefits are still being debated by employers and the government

What’s an employer to do? In some ways, stop worrying about whether the law works and instead consider lobbying the legislature to tweak the law to make it easier to comply and reduce the administrative burdens associated with the law.

One such change that has been proposed is to allow employers to calculate paid sick leave on something other than a calendar year, much like the FMLA. 

That’s a good start, but there are other solutions as well. Groups like the Connecticut Restaurant Association are focused on this too.

In the meantime, if you need a refresher on Paid Sick Leave, you can check out some prior posts here and here.

Each year, the Connecticut General Assembly passes a number of laws. Rather than have them enacted immediately upon the governor’s signature, many of the bills become effective on October 1st of that respective year.

I followed several workplace bills earlier this year but most never made it very far. One bill did and it gives new workplace protections to family violence victims.  I previously did a full recap here, but here are the highlights:

  • The new law prohibits an employer from terminating, penalizing, threatening, or otherwise coercing an employee with respect to his or her employment because the employee (1) is a family violence victim or (2) attends or participates in a civil court proceeding related to a case in which he or she is a family violence victim. The bill doubles, from 90 to 180 days, the time an employee has to bring a civil action against an employer who takes any of these actions.
  • The new law requires employers to allow family violence victims to take paid or unpaid leave (including compensatory time, vacation time, personal days, or other time off) during any calendar year in which the leave is reasonably necessary for a variety of listed reasons. Employers may limit unpaid leave taken under the bill’s provisions to 12 days per calendar year but note that it has no effect on any other leave provided under state or federal law.  

    Employer can ask for notices and a written statement certifying the leave and ask that the leave be scheduled ahead of time as well.  But if the employer receives such notices, it must keep written statements confidential.  

By now, Connecticut employers should have reviewed their existing policies and procedures to understand the impact of this new law. Moreover, employers may want to consider amending their leave policies to cover this new type of leave.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether employees will avail themselves of this leave or whether this law will have only very limited impacts on employers.  But regardless, employers should be aware of this new leave should any requests by employees be made.