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

At its March 19, 2019 meeting, the General Assembly’s Labor and Public Employees Committee approved a plethora of bills, with a concentration on expanding various employee rights.  The following is a brief summary of the bills that the Committee voted favorably on and advanced out of committee (and which now await action by the full General Assembly).

(MORE) EMPLOYEE RIGHTS

AGE DISCRIMINATION: House Bill No. 6113 (“An Act Prohibiting Employers From Inquiring About Date Of Birth Or Date Of Graduation On Employment Applications”) would amend the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act by expressly making it a discriminatory practice for an employer (except in the case of a “bona fide occupational qualification or need”) to request or require a prospective employee’s age, date of birth or date of graduation from an educational institution on an initial employment application.

BREASTFEEDING IN THE WORKPLACE: House Bill No. 7043 (“An Act Concerning Breastfeeding In The Workplace”) would amend current laws requiring employers to make reasonable efforts to provide a room (other than a toilet stall) in the workplace where the employee can express her breast milk in private, by further mandating that such a room be 1) free from intrusion and shielded from the public while the employee expresses her milk, 2) include or be near a refrigerator or an “employee-provided portable cold storage device” in which the  employee can store her breast milk, and 3) include access to an electrical outlet.

LEAVE TO VOTE: Senate Bill No. 358 (“An Act Concerning Employee Voting Opportunities”) would require that employers grant employees, at an employee’s request and during the employee’s regularly scheduled work on the day of any regular election (or special election held to fill a vacancy in a state, district or municipal office) at least four hours away from work in order to vote. On its face, the bill does not mandate that the time-off be with pay.

NONDISCLOSURE AGREEMENTS (AND HARASSMENT): Senate Bill No. 697 (“An Act Concerning Nondisclosure Agreements In The Workplace”) would prohibit employers from entering into a contract with an employee or prospective employee as a condition of employment, continued employment, promotion, compensation or benefit that contains a nondisclosure or non-disparagement clause, waiver or other provision “that has the purpose or effect of preventing the employee from disclosing or discussing sexual harassment or sexual assault occurring in the workplace, at a work-related event coordinated by or through the employer or between employees, or between an employer and an employee, off the employment premises.” The bill would also provide a private cause of action (with damages) for violations of this mandate.

SICK LEAVE TO TEMPORARY EMPLOYEES: House Bill No. 6928 (“An Act Concerning Temporary Employment Agencies And Paid Sick Leave”) would amend Connecticut’s paid sick leave law so as to cover day and temporary workers, i.e., persons employed by employment agencies or temporary help services.

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION FOR EMERGENCY EMPLOYEES: House Bill No. 6929 (“An Act Allowing Certain State And Municipal Workers And First Responders To File Workers’ Compensation Claims For Injuries Sustained While Traveling To And From Work”) would expressly allow emergency management service employees and dispatchers who are employed by the state or a municipality to file workers’ compensation claims for injuries sustained on the way to (or on the way home from) work.

WORKPLACE VIOLENCE AND STATE EMPLOYEES: Senate Bill No. 698 (“An Act Concerning Complaints Of Workplace Violence Or Abusive Conduct Involving State Employees”) would require the Commissioner of Administrative Services to report annually to the Governor and the General Assembly’s Labor and Public Employees Committee, summarizing the number of complaints of workplace violence or abusive conduct involving state employees and the outcomes of such complaints in the preceding year. This report would also include recommendations for administrative or legislative action related to such complaints, along with any additional information or recommendations the Commissioner deems necessary and relevant regarding the reporting, prevention, evaluation and investigation of such complaints.

TRANSPORTATION NETWORK COMPANY DRIVERS: Senate Bill No. 989 (“An Act Concerning Basic Labor Standards For Transportation Network Company Drivers) would require “transportation network companies” (e.g., “Uber”, “Lyft”) to pay their drivers not less than 75% of the money collected from each rider for each prearranged ride completed (and prohibit these companies from keeping more than 25% of the total moneys collected for any driver on any day). The bill would also prohibit such companies from discriminating against their drivers (or any group of drivers) on account of their participation in discussions regarding organizing or advocating for better treatment by (or working conditions with) the companies. The bill would provide a private cause of action (with specified damages) for violations of these mandates; the Commissioner of Labor would also be empowered to enforce the provisions of this bill. Further, the bill would require such companies to report (on a quarterly basis) to the Commissioner of Transportation the total number of prearranged rides completed by their drivers during the quarter, along with the total amount of money 1) collected from riders and 2) paid to their drivers for such rides.

DOMESTIC WORKERS: House Bill No. 6931 (“An Act Concerning Domestic Workers”) would add domestic workers to the definition of employees that are subject to the protections afforded by the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and the minimum wage/overtime laws. In addition, this bill would provide of a plethora of other legal protections and benefits to domestic workers, such as 1) protection against interference with private off-duty communications, electronic monitoring of communications and activities, and search of personal belongs or intrusion upon the employee’s designated live-in area without consent, 2) notice to the employee about the health dangers from cleaning products, along with a right of the employee to “negotiate” and to substitute safer cleaning products, 3) notice prior to hiring of the employee’s   conditions of employment and rights under this bill, 4) advance notice of termination (except for “willful misconduct”) for those employed in a position for more than 90 days, 5) protection against retaliation for “whistleblower” type activities, 6) a prohibition against working more than six days in a calendar week (unless the employee and employer agree in writing to such a schedule and the employee is paid at the applicable rate, including overtime), with a right to appeal to the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration if the employee is terminated due to a refusal to work more than six days in a week, and 7) the right to bring an action in the Superior Court for damages against an employer for violations of the various mandates in this bill.

GRANTS/TAX CREDITS

WORKFORCE GRANTS FOR “DISTRESSED” COMMUNITIES: House Bill No. 7317 (“An Act Concerning Urban And Rural Workforce Development”) would require the Commissioner of Labor, in consultation with the State Treasurer, to establish and administer a grant program for “eligible minority business enterprises” that are located in “distressed municipalities” for the purposes of developing and increasing the workforce in such municipalities. Such grants may be used by minority business enterprises to establish work-based educational programs in collaboration with local and regional boards of education.

WORK OPPORTUNITY TAX CREDITS: Senate Bill No. 360 (“An Act Concerning Proposed The Processing Of Work Opportunity Tax Credit Applications”) would require the State Department of Labor to process Work Opportunity Tax Credits within certain time frames, namely, it must process 1) 40% of these tax credits submitted and in its possession by July 1, 2020, 2) 60% of such credits by July 1, 2021, 3) 80% by July 1, 2022, and 4) 100% by July 1, 2023. The bill would also require the Department of Labor to pursue a method to receive and process all applications for such tax credits electronically.

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The deadline for the Labor and Public Employees Committee to approve (and advance out of committee) bills is March 26, 2019. Bills affecting labor and employment issues may also emerge from other committees (such as the Judiciary and Planning and Development Committees).  The 2019 session of the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on June 5, 2019, so stay tuned to see if any of these bills are enacted into law.