Latest Developments from the Connecticut General Assembly: The Labor and Public Employees Committee Has Spoken (Part One-Expansion of Rights)
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Following its initial action, (Latest Developments from the Connecticut General Assembly: The Labor and Public Employees Committee Begins to Speak), the General Assembly’s Labor and Public Employees Committee likely finished up its work for this legislative session and approved a final flurry of bills that would expand workers’ rights and protections.  Some of these bills (e.g., paid sick leave expansion and scheduling changes) reflect trends that have been occurring in other states and/or had been considered in prior legislative sessions but never came to fruition. 

Here is a summary of these bills (which now await action by the full General Assembly):  

CAPTIVE AUDIENCES: S.B. No. 318 (“An Act Concerning Captive Audience Meetings”) would prohibit an employer from requiring employees to attend meetings (or listen to speech or view communications) sponsored by the employer, the primary purpose of which is to communicate the employer's opinion concerning religious or political matters.  The bill does NOT prohibit: 1) An employer from communicating to its employees any information that the employer is required by law to communicate, to the extent of such legal requirement; 2) an employer from communicating to its employees any information that is necessary for employees to perform their job duties; 3) an institution of higher education from meeting with or participating in any communications with its employees that are part of coursework, symposia, or an academic program at such institution; 4) “casual conversations” between employees or an employee and an agent or representative of an employer, provided participation in such conversations is not required; or 5) a requirement limited to the employer's managerial and supervisory employees.  The bill would not apply to a religious corporation, entity, association, educational institution or society that is exempt from the requirements of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act, with respect to speech on religious matters to employees who perform work connected with such entities’ activities.

SHIFT SCHEDULING CHANGES: H.B. No. 5353 (“An Act Concerning A Fair Work Week Schedule”) would apply to retail, food services and hospitality establishments that employ at least 500 employees globally (or a franchisee thereof) and is not too dissimilar to prior bills regarding “employee scheduling predictability.”  The bill would require covered employers to 1) obtain from employees upon hire a written statement of the employee's desired number of weekly work hours and the days and times the employee is available to work (with the employee having the right to modify such statement at any time); and 2) provide the employees upon hire with a written “good faith” estimate of the employee's work schedule, which shall not be considered a contractual offer binding the employer and must contain: a) The average, minimum and maximum numbers of work hours the employee can expect to work each week; b) the minimum length of shifts that the employee can expect to work; and c) the number of days, the amount of time and the number of shifts that the employee can expect to work, and days of the week and times or  shifts on which the employee will not be scheduled to work. An employer may modify the estimate if there is a significant change due to changes in the employee's availability or to the employer's business needs.  The bill provides that an employer is not in violation of these provisions when an employee's average weekly work hours significantly exceed the number provided in the written estimate if the employer makes every effort to schedule the employee for the employee's desired number of weekly work hours.

The bill provides that by the date of an employee's first shift, the employer shall provide to the employee the employee's work schedule for the next seven-day period. Thereafter, at least fourteen days prior to the first date of the seven-day period of any work schedule, an employer shall post the work schedule in a conspicuous place accessible to all employees and shall transmit the schedule to each employee. The work schedule shall identify all employees currently employed at the worksite, whether or not such employees are scheduled to work any hours in the schedule. An employer shall provide to each employee written notice of any work schedule change as soon as possible and prior to such change taking effect.  Not later than 24 hours after making a change to the work schedule, the employer shall revise the posted work schedule to reflect the change. An employee may decline to work any hours not included in the posted work schedule. If the employee voluntarily consents to work such hours, such consent shall be recorded in writing.  An employer shall pay an employee: 1) One hour of pay at the employee's  regular rate for each instance that the employer (fewer than seven days prior to the commencement of scheduled work hours) adds one or more  hours of work or changes the date, time or location of a work shift without a reduction of hours, and 2) 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: a) After the employee reports to work such scheduled work hours, or b) fewer than seven days in advance.  These provisions do not apply where an employee's scheduled work hours are changed due to: 1) The employee's written request, including (but not limited to) a request to use sick leave, vacation leave or other leave pursuant to the employer's policy; 2) a mutually agreed-upon shift trade or coverage arrangement between employees, subject to an existing employer policy; or 3) the inability of the employer's operations to begin or continue due to a) the failure of a public utility or the shutdown of public transportation, b) fire, flood or other natural disaster, or c) an emergency declaration issued by the president or the governor.  This bill also provides that an employee may decline to work any shift that begins fewer than 11 hours after the end of the employee's previous day's shift (or during the 11-hour period following the end of a shift that spanned more than one day). If an employee consents to work such shift, such consent shall be in writing and the employee shall be compensated at one and one-half times the employee's regular rate of pay.  Finally, the bill provides that an employee may request adjustments to such employee's work schedule, including, but not limited to, requests: 1) Not to be scheduled for work shifts during certain days or times or at certain locations; 2) for certain hours, days or locations of work; 3) for more or fewer work hours; and 4) to be scheduled consistently for a specified or minimum number of weekly work hours. The employer shall then engage in an “interactive process” to discuss such employee requests but may grant or deny the request for any bona fide business reason that is not unlawful.  The bill imposes record-keeping requirements, imposes fines for violations, and provides for a private cause of action for aggrieved employees and whistleblowers.

PAID SICK LEAVE: S.B. No. 312 (“An Act Concerning The Expansion Of Connecticut Paid Sick Days”) would, among other things, revise the state’s current paid sick leave law by 1) covering all private sector employers (as opposed to just those employers with at least 50 employees and just “service workers”), 2) broadening the types of family members for whom an employee may use the leave (for care) from just children and spouses to include adult children, siblings, parents, grandparents, grandchildren, and “anyone related by blood or affinity whose close association is the equivalent” of these family members (which is similar to the provisions of Connecticut’s  FMLA); 3) increasing the rate at which employees accrue leave (one hour accrued for every 30 hour worked instead of the current 40 hours) and 4) broadening the reasons for which an employee may use sick leave to include when the employer’s place of business is closed by order of a public official due to a public health emergency, or when an employee needs to care for a family member whose school or place of care has been closed by such an order.  The bill provides that exempt employees shall be assumed to work 40 hours in each work week for purposes of paid sick leave accrual, unless their normal work week is less than 40 hours, in which case paid sick leave shall accrue based upon the hours worked in that normal work week.

The bill provides that an employer may not require documentation for leave to explain the nature of the illness or the details of the family violence or sexual assault. In addition, if an employer chooses to require documentation for paid sick leave and the employer does not offer health insurance to the employee, the employer shall pay all out-of-pocket expenses the employee incurs in obtaining the documentation. If the employee has health insurance, the employer shall pay any costs charged to the employee by the health care provider for providing the specific documentation required by the employer.  The employer shall pay any costs charged to the employee for documentation of family violence or sexual assault required by the employer. The bill prohibits an employer from requiring that the employee search for or find a replacement worker to cover the hours for which the employee is using paid sick leave as a condition for receiving such leave. The bill also provides a private right of action for violations of the paid sick leave law and imposes further record keeping and posting requirements.  

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION AND PTSD: S.B. No. 321 (An Act Expanding Workers' Compensation Coverage for Post-Traumatic Injuries For All Employees”) would expand workers' compensation benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder for witnessing certain traumatic events (e.g., certain deaths or maimings) to include all employees as of January 1, 2023; this benefit is currently limited to certain first responders.

SEXUAL VIOLENCE POSTING IN THE WORKPLACE: H.B. No. 5355 (“An Act Concerning Sexual Violence Posting In The Workplace”) would require an employer having three or more employees to post in a prominent location information concerning domestic violence and the resources available to victims of domestic violence.  This bill would then require the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) to develop, in conjunction with the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV), and include on CHRO’s web site, a link concerning domestic violence and the resources available to victims of domestic violence.  This bill would also require each state agency to provide a minimum of one hour of training and education related to domestic violence and the resources available to victims of domestic violence 1) to all employees by July 1, 2023, and 2) to all employees hired on or after July 1, 2023, not later than six months after their assumption of a position. The bill sets forth the contents of such training, and the requirements of this bill may be met by using the online training and education video (or other interactive method of training and education) that is to be developed by CHRO in conjunction with CCADV (and made available at no cost to each state agency). 

SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS: H.B. No. 5443 (“An Act Concerning Identity Theft”) would amend the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act so as to make it a discriminatory practice to request or require a Social Security number on an initial employment application.  This provision would not apply to any employer requesting or requiring such information based on a bona fide occupational qualification or need or when such information is required to comply with any provision of state or federal law.

STUDY OF VARIOUS NEW BILLS:  To address the potential effects of all of these proposed bills providing various new benefits and worker rights, S.B. No. 316 (“An Act Protecting Connecticut Workers”) would require the Connecticut Labor Department to conduct a study regarding captive audience meetings, paid sick day expansion,  pandemic pay, unemployment overpayments, expanding workers'  compensation coverage for post-traumatic stress injuries for all employees, the Essential Worker COVID Relief Fund, recommendations from the Task Force to Study Cancer Relief Benefits for Firefighters and warehouse workers in the state, and to submit a report with its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly’s Labor and Public Employees Committee by January 1, 2023.

Stay tuned for more.

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