Latest Developments from the Connecticut General Assembly: The Labor and Public Employees Committee Has Spoken

As you are aware from our prior posts, the General Assembly’s Labor and Public Employees Committee has been quite busy if not hyperactive during the 2019 legislative session. At its March 21, 2019 meeting, the Committee likely finished up its work for this legislative session and approved a final flurry of bills.  The following is a brief summary of the bills that the Committee voted favorably on and advanced out of committee at this meeting (and which now await action by the full General Assembly). PLEASE NOTE: One of the bills passed (House Bill No. 6935An Act Concerning The Right Of A Public Employee To Join Or Support A Union”) is quite substantial and will be the subject of a separate blog post.

Senate Bill No. 359 (“An Act Extending Whistleblower Protections To Employees Of Businesses Receiving Financial Assistance From The State”) would extend “whistleblower” protections to employees of entities receiving economic development financial assistance from the state who provide information to the Auditors of Public Accounts concerning corruption by any such entity “that has failed to meet its contractual obligations or satisfy any condition of the financial assistance agreement”.

Senate Bill No. 549 (“An Act Concerning Firefighter Work Weeks”) would eliminate the 56 hour average work week cap for unspecified “certain” permanent paid firefighters by instead making the average work week a mandatory subject of bargaining with respect to all future collective bargaining agreements.

Senate Bill No. 660 (“An Act Concerning Permanent Partial Disability And Pension Offsets”) would prevent the classification of “permanent partial disability” settlements as wages for the purpose of workers’ compensation benefits.

Senate Bill No. 764 (“An Act Prohibiting “On-Call” Shift Scheduling”) and House Bill No. 6924 (“An Act Limiting “On-Call” Shift Scheduling”) would require (with limited exceptions) any covered employer who employs at least 25 employees to pay an employee one-half of the employee’s regular rate for any scheduled work hours the employee does not work due to the employer cancelling or reducing the employee’s scheduled work hours 1) after the employee reports to work such scheduled work hours, or 2) less than 72 hours prior to the commencement of such scheduled work hours. The bill also provides that any covered employee may decline to work a shift that begins less than 11 hours after the end of the employee’s previous day’s shift (or during the 11 hour period following the end of the employee’s shift that spanned two days); if an employee consents to work such a shift, 1) such consent shall be in writing, and 2) the employee who works such a shift shall be compensated at one and one-half times the employee’s regular rate of pay. This bill would require covered employers to keep records for not less than three years of: 1) The shifts worked each day and each week by each employee, 2) each employee’s work schedule, and 3) any revisions to such work schedule. The provisions of this bill would generally apply to many mercantile and service industry employers.

Senate Bill No. 765 (“An Act Ensuring Fair And Equal Pay For Equal Work”) would provide an employer with a defense to compensatory or punitive damages in an equal pay lawsuit if, within three years prior to commencement of the lawsuit, the employer 1) completed a good faith self-evaluation of its pay practices and 2) eliminated the wage differentials for the plaintiff who brought the law suit. If this occurred, the court could “only” award 1) back pay for the two-year period immediately preceding the filing of the lawsuit and 2) costs and reasonable attorney’s fees. This bill would also provide that whenever an employer asserts as a defense to such lawsuit that the differential in pay is made pursuant to a seniority system, time spent on leave due to a pregnancy-related condition or protected family and medical leave may NOT be used to reduce seniority.

Senate Bill No. 881 (“An Act Establishing A Paid Family And Medical Leave Program”) would essentially provide a program of paid family and medical leave (and make changes in Connecticut’s Family and Medical Leave Act) in the same manner as bills already approved by the Committee on February 19, 2019 (and summarized here).

Senate Bill No. 990 (“An Act Concerning Call Centers And Notice Of Closure”) would require that any “call center” employer employing at least 50 employees that intends to relocate a call center (or any facilities or operating units within a call center comprising at least 30% of the call center’s or operating unit’s total call volume) from Connecticut to another state or a foreign country must notify the Commissioner of Labor at least 100 days prior to such relocation. A call center employer that violates this command would be subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $10,000 per day for each day of such a violation. In addition, the bill provides that any call center employer that relocates to another state (or country) would be ineligible for any direct or indirect state grants, state guaranteed loans, state tax benefits or other state financial support for a period of five years. Such a call center employer would also have to remit the unamortized value of any such state financial support it has received in the previous five years; however, this remittance requirement could be waived if the employer demonstrates that such requirement would: 1) Threaten state or national security, 2) result in substantial job loss in this state, or 3) harm the environment.

House Bill No. 5271 (“An Act Increasing Sexual Harassment Prevention Training”) would increase the current sexual harassment prevention training requirements for employers by 1) requiring employers having 50 or more employees to provide four hours of training and education to all supervisory employees, 2) having such training take place annually, and 3) requiring the training to include the employer’s policy regarding sexual harassment, along with examples of the types of conduct that constitute sexual harassment.

House Bill No. 5883 (“An Requiring Workers’ Compensation Insurance Coverage For Detoxification For Certain Injured Employees”) would require that workers’ compensation insurance policies in our state provide coverage for detoxification for each injured employee who, as a result of a covered injury sustained by the employee, consumes opioid drugs for a continuous period of at least one year.

House Bill No. 6111 (“An Act Authorizing Employers To Enroll Employees In Direct Paycheck Deposit Programs”) would permit employers with at least 25 employees to automatically enroll its employees into a direct paycheck deposit program, provided that any employee may opt out of such a program and elect to be paid by either cash or check.

House Bill No. 6346 (“An Act Concerning The Review Of Municipal Arbitration Awards”) would clarify the 25 day deadline for an municipal employer to reject an interest arbitration award under the Municipal Employee Relations Act; the bill provides that if the 25th day falls on a weekend or a holiday, the deadline will be extended through the next business day.

House Bill No. 6508 (“An Act Concerning Investment In The Construction Job Workforce For Low-Income Residents”) would provide that with respect to any state and municipal public works contract, the contractor must agree to make good faith efforts to employ a workforce comprised at least 25% minorities, 25% state residents and 8% women. Determination of a contractor’s good faith efforts would include, but not be limited to: 1) The contractor’s employment and subcontracting policies, patterns and practices, 2) affirmative advertising, recruitment and training, and 3) technical assistance activities and “other reasonable activities or efforts” as our Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities may prescribe that are designed to ensure employment of minorities, state residents and women in public works projects.

House Bill No. 6630 (“An Act Requiring Individuals Who Install Solar Energy Systems To Complete An Electrician Apprenticeship”) would require anyone who installs commercial or residential solar energy systems to be a licensed electrician or registered as an electrician’s apprentice prior to installing such systems.

House Bill No. 6913 (“An Act Concerning Covenants Not To Compete”) would mandate that a covenant not compete entered into, renewed or extended on or after June 30, 2019 is permissible only if it is 1) not restrictive of the employee’s competitive activities for a period of more than one year following the employee’s termination, 2) necessary to protect a legitimate business interest of the employer, 3) reasonably limited in time, geographic scope and employment restrictions as necessary to protect such business interest, 4) entered into by an employee who receives compensation at an hourly rate of more than twice the minimum wage, and 5) otherwise consistent with the law of this state “and public policy”. The bill provides that the party seeking to enforce a covenant not to compete would have the burden of proof in any proceeding. In addition, such a covenant would not be enforceable if 1) the employment contract or agreement was not made in anticipation of a sale of the goodwill of a business or all of the seller’s ownership interest in a business, or as part of a partnership or ownership agreement and such contract or agreement expires and is not renewed, unless, prior to such expiration, the employer makes a bona fide offer to renew the contract on the same or similar terms and conditions, 2) the employment or contractual relationship is terminated by the employer, or 3) the employment or contractual relationship is terminated by the employee for good cause attributable to the employer. The bill provides that a covenant not to compete that otherwise conforms in all respects to these new requirements shall not be invalid based upon its duration of more than one year but not longer than two years following the termination if it is a part of an employment agreement or a separation agreement under which the employer agrees to continue to compensate the employee with the employee’s base salary and benefits for a period of not less than one year following the termination. The bill provides that each covenant not to compete shall 1) be provided to the employee not less than ten business days prior to the date of signing, 2) expressly state that the employee has the right to consult with counsel prior to signing, and 3) be signed by the employee and the employer. The remaining provisions of any contract or agreement that includes a covenant not to compete that is rendered void and unenforceable under this bill would remain in full force and effect, including provisions requiring the payment of damages resulting from any injury suffered by reason of termination of such contract or agreement.

House Bill No. 6916 (“An Act Expanding Remedies And Potential Liability For Unreasonably Contested Or Delayed Workers’ Compensation Claims”) would amend the workers’ compensation statutes so as to mandate the payment of 1) interest where there had been a delay in payment of benefits, and 2) where the employer or insurer has unreasonably contested liability, attorneys’ fees. The bill also provides that an employee may bring a claim against an insurer or third party administrator for breach of the “covenant of good faith and fair dealing” in the handling of claims or for a violation of the Connecticut Unfair Insurance Practices Act or the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act for either contesting or delaying benefits unreasonably. The insurer or third party administrators could not seek indemnification from (or an increase in premiums charged to) the employer for such claims.

House Bill No. 6921 (“An Act Concerning Discrimination Based Solely On A Person’s Criminal History”) would broadly prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, public education and accommodations, insurance, credit transactions, government programs and services and economic development programs, based on a person’s criminal arrest or conviction history.

House Bill No. 6923 (“An Act Concerning Per Diem Equity For State Board Of Mediation And Arbitration Arbitrators”) would provide that State Board of Mediation and Arbitration arbitrators shall receive $325/per day pay for each additional day of hearing beyond the first day (instead of the current $150/day they receive for such additional days).

House Bill No. 6927 (“An Act Establishing A Task Force To Study Debarment And Limitations On The Awarding Of State Contracts”) would establish a task force to study Connecticut’s debarment procedures (relating to employers who engage in “wage theft”) and how such procedures relate to other states and other Connecticut employment statutes.

House Bill No. 6933 (“An Act Requiring Disclosure Of The Salary Range Of A Vacant Employment Position”) would require the Commissioner of Labor to study whether employers in this state should be required to disclose to job applicants the salary ranges for advertised vacant employment positions.

House Bill No. 7292 (“An Act Concerning Social Worker Title Protection”) would provide that no person could use the title “social worker” or any initials associated with such title, unless such person is licensed as a master social worker.

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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.