The Aftermath: Developments From The 2015 Session of The Connecticut General Assembly Affecting The Workplace

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The 2015 session of the Connecticut General Assembly has just concluded.  The following is a concise description of employment-related bills that were passed by the General Assembly that may be of interest.  A more comprehensive and updated listing and discussion of the enactments from the 2015 session will be forthcoming from this firm after the Governor has acted upon all of the relevant bills, and after the conclusion of the upcoming “special session.”

 

HB6707 AN ACT CONCERNING THE LOSS OF AN OPERATOR LICENSE DUE TO A DRUG OR ALCOHOL TESTING PROGRAM AND UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS.This bill will protect an employer from having its “base period” account charged for unemployment benefits if the claimant was discharged or suspended for an inability to perform his or her job due to losing a motor vehicle operator’s license as a result of failing a drug or alcohol test administered in connection with the State’s DUI laws while off duty.  This change would benefit private sector employers who pay unemployment taxes based upon their “experience” record.
HB6787 AN ACT CONCERNING THE EXAMINATION PROCESS FOR CERTAIN CLASSES OF POSITIONS IN THE CLASSIFIED SERVICE.This bill will allow a “classified state employee” to avoid being retested, and to instead be able to rely upon his/her most recent score from a promotional examination, provided: (1) this new statutory provision is publicized on appropriate examination notices; (2) The subsequent examination is in the same or equivalent form as the previous examination; (3) the candidate satisfies all other requirements for the classification and the examination; and (4) not more than seven years have elapsed from the date of the candidate’s most recent examination.  This new provision does not apply to any promotional examinations held for classifications in the police-protective services occupational group.
HB6792 AN ACT CONCERNING VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENTS AND AMBULANCE COMPANIES AND THE DEFINITION OF EMPLOYER UNDER THE CONNECTICUT OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ACT.This bill will extend the applicability of Connecticut’s OSHA statutes to volunteer fire departments and ambulance departments not already covered by the federal OSHA.
HB6850 AN ACT CONCERNING PAY EQUITY AND FAIRNESS.This bill will make it illegal for employers to prohibit their employees from voluntarily sharing with each other information about the amount of their wages, and also would prohibit an employer from requiring an employee to sign a waiver that denies the employee his or her right to share such information.  This bill would prohibit an employer from discharging, disciplining, discriminating or retaliating against, or otherwise penalizing any employee for such sharing of wage information.  Employees aggrieved by an employer’s violation of this new law may bring a suit in the courts, and may be awarded compensatory damages, attorney’s fees and costs, punitive damages and appropriate legal and equitable relief.   Such a law suit must be brought within two years after the alleged violation.   NOTE: This bill does NOT require any employer or employee to share wage information.
HB6871 AN ACT CONCERNING MINOR AND CLARIFYING CHANGES TO THE SUBSIDIZED TRAINING AND EMPLOYMENT PROGRAM AND OTHER STATUTES AFFECTING THE LABOR DEPARTMENT.This bill revises the Subsidized Training and Employment Program [“STEP”] and the Unemployed Armed Forces Member STEP; these programs provide grants to businesses to help offset the cost of training and paying eligible new employees and unemployed veterans during their first 180 days on the job.  Among other things, this bill will prohibit eligible businesses from receiving STEP grants for new employees hired to replace workers that are (a) currently employed or (b) terminated, unless they demonstrate “just cause “for replacing or terminating the workers.  This bill also specifies that the state and its political subdivisions (e.g., municipalities) are not eligible for these grants.
HB6873 AN ACT CONCERNING INJURED VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS AND SICK LEAVE BENEFITS.This bill will allow a state employee who is injured while performing his or her duty as a volunteer firefighter to receive his or her accrued sick leave with pay while recuperating from such injury.
SB 426 AN ACT CONCERNING EMPLOYEE ONLINE PRIVACY.File this under “if at first you do not succeed, .…”   This bill effectively prohibits an employer from 1) requiring an employee (or job applicant) to provide it with passwords, user names, or other means of access to the employee’s or applicant’s personal online accounts (e.g.,  e-mail, social media and retail-based Internet web sites), 2) requiring an employee or applicant to invite the employer or accept an invitation from the employer to join a group affiliated with any such account, and 3) disciplining, discharging, discriminating or retaliating against, or otherwise penalizing any employee or applicant for refusing or failing to provide such information or access to the employer.  The law provides that employees and applicants alleging a violation of this new mandate may file a complaint with the Department of Labor.  After holding a hearing, the Department may issue fines and order make-whole relief (including attorneys’ fees); any party can appeal the Department’s decision to the Superior Court.  The bill does contain certain exceptions; namely, an employer may require an employee or applicant to allow it access to a personal online account for the purpose of 1) conducting an investigation into an unauthorized transfer of the employer’s proprietary information, confidential information, or financial data to or from a personal online account, or 2) ensuring compliance with applicable laws, regulatory requirements or prohibitions against work-related employee misconduct, but only if the employer receives specific information about such activity on an employee’s or applicant’s account.  Also exempt from this new law are state and municipal law enforcement agencies that are conducting pre-employment investigation of law enforcement personnel.
SB 428 AN ACT PROTECTING INTERNS FROM WORKPLACE HARASSMENT AND DISCRIMINATION.This bill would extend state non-discrimination protections to unpaid interns.
SB 445 AN ACT CONCERNING A PLAN FOR THE CONNECTICORPS PROGRAM.This bill requires the Department of Labor, in collaboration with the Department of Economic and Community Development, the Board of Regents for Higher Education and The University of Connecticut, to develop a plan to establish the “Connecticorps” jobs program to capitalize on the skills of students enrolled in the state system of higher education to improve the quality of life for Connecticut residents.  By January 1, 2017, the Labor Department must report to the General Assembly’s labor, commerce and higher education committees regarding the status of the plan as well as any recommendations for administrative or legislative action necessary to establish the Connecticorps program not later than September 1, 2017.
SB 446 AN ACT CONCERNING THE DEFINITION OF THE TERM “DOMESTIC WORKER”.
  The bill explicitly provides that domestic workers who work for employers with at least three employees will now be covered by Connecticut’s employment discrimination laws.  In addition, the bill makes significant changes to Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities [“CHRO”] procedures.  This bill reduces the amount of time that CHRO has for getting the complaint to the employer, and then would allow the employer to elect to participate in “pre-answer conciliation” prior to filing its answer.  The bill reduces the time for CHRO to conduct its initial “merit assessment review” from 90 days to 60 days, and provides that instead of automatic review of a dismissal of a complaint, the CHRO must give the complaining party a “release of jurisdiction” allowing that party to proceed in the courts.  This bill also makes changes to the mandatory mediation conference, and  gives CHRO’s legal counsel (instead of the executive director) the power to rule upon requests for reconsideration of “no reasonable cause” findings, along with the power to recommend that an investigator make a “no reasonable cause” finding  after a request for early intervention.
SB 913 AN ACT CONCERNING THE ENROLLMENT OF NONSTATE PUBLIC EMPLOYEES IN THE STATE EMPLOYEE HEALTH PLAN.This bill requires the comptroller to offer non-state public employers (e.g., municipalities and school districts) and their employees and retirees coverage under the state employee health insurance plan, at the same premium cost charged to state employers. However, the non-state employees may not be admitted into the state employee plan unless the State Employees’ Bargaining Agent Coalition [“SEBAC”] consents to this bill’s terms and submits this consent to both chambers of the General Assembly. The bill requires such non-state employees to be pooled with the state employee plan as long as their employer’s application meets certain requirements.   The bill will permit an employer to require a covered employee or retiree to pay part of the coverage cost, subject to any applicable collective bargaining agreement cost-sharing provisions.  Also, effective October 1, 2015, this bill will close the current state plan offered to municipalities (the “partnership plan,” which has a separate pool) to new non-state public employees; the bill does not require any non-state public employer currently enrolled in the partnership plan to instead enroll in the state employees’  plan.  The bill specifies that the issue of participation in the state employees plan is a mandatory subject of bargaining.
SB 914 AN ACT CONCERNING AN EMPLOYER’S FAILURE TO PAY WAGES.Currently, employees who bring a lawsuit regarding an employer’s failure to pay wages can obtain as damages twice the full amount of the unpaid wages (plus attorneys’ fees in certain cases).  This bill provides that the employee would only be entitled to the actual amount of unpaid wages, rather than twice that amount, if the employer can establish that it had a good faith belief that its underpayment was in compliance with the law.
SB 984 AN ACT CONCERNING THE UNIONIZATION OF AGRICULTURAL WORKERS, NONPARTISAN LEGISLATIVE MANAGEMENT EMPLOYEES AND STATE EDUCATION RESOURCE CENTER EMPLOYEES.This bill allows employees of the State Education Resource Center [“SERC”] to collectively bargain under the State Employees Relations Act.
SB 985 AN ACT CONCERNING BARBERSHOPS AND APPRENTICESHIPS.This bill will allow an applicant to receive a barber’s license by successfully completing a Labor Department-approved apprenticeship program in lieu of the usual 1,000-hour course of study requirement.
SB 988 AN ACT UPDATING THE OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH CLINICS STATUTES.This bill provides that the Department of Labor, when awarding grants for occupational health clinics, shall give priority to organizations providing services for working age populations, including migrant and contingent workers, where health disparities or work structure interferes with the provision of occupational health care services.  The bill also amends the definition of covered “occupational disease” to include chronic diseases affecting organ systems, including cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems.
SB 989 AN ACT CONCERNING REEMPLOYMENT AND THE MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES’ RETIREMENT SYSTEM.This bill will permit retired municipal employees receiving benefits from the Connecticut Municipal Employees’ Retirement System to be reemployed by a municipality and continue collecting these retirement benefits as long as the employee does not participate in the retirement system (i.e., make or have made by others further contributions and attempt to obtain further credited experience) during the period of reemployment.