Latest Developments from the Connecticut General Assembly: The Labor and Public Employees Committee Begins to Speak

At its February 21, 2017 and March 2, 2017 meetings, the General Assembly’s Labor and Public Employees Committee began the process of approving bills. The following is a listing (with a brief description) of the proposed bills that the Labor and Public Employees Committee voted favorably on and advanced out of committee at those meetings:

H.B. No. 6208 AN ACT INCREASING THE MINIMUM WAGE. This bill would increase the minimum wage from the current $10.10/hour  to $11.00/hour on January 1, 2018, $12.00/hour on January 1, 2019, $13.00/hour on January 1, 2020, $14.00/hour on January 1, 2021, and $15.00/hour on January 1, 2022.  Thereafter, the minimum wage would be subject to annual indexing/adjustment for inflation.

H.B. No. 5210  AN ACT CONCERNING VARIOUS PAY EQUITY AND FAIRNESS MATTERS. This bill would amend the state’s gender equal pay statute (and its “bona fide seniority” defense) by explicitly providing that time spent on leave due to a pregnancy-related condition or protected parental, family and medical leave shall not reduce seniority.   This bill would also a) prohibit employers from using an employee’s previous wage or salary history as a defense in an equal pay lawsuit, and b) provide an employer an affirmative defense in an equal pay lawsuit if, 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 toward eliminating gender-based wage differentials.  Furthermore, this bill would prohibit employers from inquiring about a prospective employee’s wage and salary history before an offer of employment with compensation has been “negotiated and made” to the prospective employee, unless the applicant has voluntarily disclosed such information. (This last provision has engendered significant controversy.)

H.B. No. 5278  AN ACT CONCERNING PAID SICK LEAVE FOR EMERGENCY MEDICAL DISPATCHERS AND CALL RECEIVING OPERATORS.  This bill would make police, fire and ambulance dispatchers eligible for paid sick leave provided to “service workers” under Connecticut law.

H.B. No. 5591 AN ACT CONCERNING PAY EQUITY IN THE WORKFORCE.  This bill would tweak the state gender equal pay statute and would require all employers to provide equal pay to employees in the same workplace who perform “comparable” duties.   Currently, the statute uses  the term “similar” duties as its baseline.

H.B. No. 6206 AN ACT CONCERNING AGE DISCRIMINATION IN HIRING PRACTICES.  This bill would expressly prohibit an employer (except in the case of a “bona fide occupational qualification or need”) from requesting or requiring a prospective employee’s date of birth or age on an initial employment application.

H.B. No. 6215 AN ACT REQUIRING EMPLOYERS TO PROVIDE PAID SICK LEAVE TO SCHOOL TUTORS. This bill would make school tutors and non-certified school “instructors” (and arguably/perhaps unintentionally, substitute teachers) eligible for paid sick leave provided to “service workers” under Connecticut law.

H.B. No. 6902 AN ACT CONCERNING THE BOARD OF MEDIATION AND ARBITRATION. This bill would increase the amount paid to arbitrators for an executive panel session from $150 to $200.

H.B. No. 7085 AN ACT CONCERNING CREDIT CARD TRANSACTIONS AND GRATUITIES.   This bill provides that where an employer imposes a surcharge on or reduces the gratuity paid to an employee through a credit card transaction, such gratuity shall not then be recognized as part of the minimum wage required to be paid by the employer. The bill further requires any employer who imposes such a surcharge on or reduces the gratuity paid to an employee through a credit card transaction to post notice of such surcharge or reduction in a prominent place on the employer’s premises notifying the patrons of such surcharge or reduction.

H.B. No. 7086  AN ACT CONCERNING THE LABOR DEPARTMENT.  This bill would require the State Department of Labor to conduct a study to determine whether policy and procedural changes within the Department may increase the productivity of workers, and to report back with its finding to the General Assembly’s Labor and Public Employees Committee by October 1, 2018.

S.B. No. 27 AN ACT INCLUDING CERTAIN MENTAL OR EMOTIONAL IMPAIRMENTS WITHIN THE DEFINITION OF “PERSONAL INJURY” UNDER THE WORKERS’ COMPENSATION STATUTES.  This bill would expand workers’ compensation benefits to include job-related mental or emotional impairments suffered by police officers and firefighters resulting directly in the course of employment from visually witnessing the death or maiming of a person (or the immediate aftermath) that is not the result of natural causes or a motor vehicle accident.  This concept has been bandied about by the legislature since the 2012 tragedy in Newtown.

S.B. No. 548 AN ACT CONCERNING HAIRDRESSERS AND COSMETICIANS. This bill would expand the ability to get a license to work as a hairdresser or cosmetician.  Specifically, a person serving as an apprentice could get such a license if he/she has (1) successfully completed the eighth grade, (2) completed an apprenticeship approved by the Department of Labor, and (3) passed a written examination satisfactory to the Department of Public Health.

S.B. No. 599  AN ACT CONCERNING THE UNEMPLOYMENT REDUCTION AMOUNT.  This  bill would expand partial unemployment compensation benefits.  Specifically, the bill would amend the statute governing partial unemployment benefits so as  to decrease the reduction in benefits from 2/3 of the benefit rate to ½ of the benefit rate.  It also reduces the wage threshold for being deemed to be partially unemployed from receiving less than 1 ½ times the benefit rate to receiving less than 2 times the benefit rate.

S.B. No. 611  AN ACT CONCERNING THE CHARGING OF UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION BENEFITS TO EMPLOYERS.  This bill states that an employer’s account will not be charged with respect to unemployment compensation benefits paid to a claimant who voluntarily left employment with that employer “without good cause attributable to the employer”.   Thus, when an employee voluntarily terminates his/her employment with an employer, and the employee is subsequently terminated by a second employer under circumstances that permit the payment of unemployment compensation benefits, the payment of unemployment compensation benefits after the subsequent termination shall not be charged to the account of the first employer.

The deadline for the Labor and Public Employees Committee to approve bills is March 14, 2017. Bills affecting labor and employment issues may also emerge from other committees (such as the Judiciary Committee).  The 2017 session of the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on June 7, 2017, so stay tuned to see if any of the above bills are enacted.