Latest Developments from the Connecticut General Assembly: The Labor and Public Employees Committee Has Spoken (Part Three-Even More Bills)
General Assembly

We have written about the General Assembly’s Labor and Public Employees Committee’s final flurry of activity of approving and advancing bills out of committee.  In addition to the bills that we have already summarized, here is a brief summary of other bills approved by the Committee (and which now await action by the full General Assembly). 

MANDATORY OVERTIME FOR HOSPITAL NURSES: H.B. No. 5357 (“An Act Concerning Mandatory Overtime For Nurses In Hospitals”) would generally prohibit hospitals from requiring nurses to work overtime.  The bill defines "overtime" as working 1) in excess of a predetermined scheduled work shift, regardless of the length of the shift (provided such scheduled work shift is determined and communicated not less than 48 hours prior to the commencement of such shift), 2) more than 12 hours in a 24-hour period, 3) during the 10-hour period immediately following the end of the previous shift of eight hours or more, or 4) more than 48 hours in any hospital-defined work week.  The bill further provides that while a nurse may voluntarily agree to work overtime, a nurse shall not be permitted to work in excess of 16 consecutive hours in a 24-hour period; in the event a nurse works 16 consecutive hours, the nurse shall be given not less than 10 consecutive hours of off-duty time immediately following such work period.  There is an exception to the mandatory overtime prohibition for the following circumstances, provided “there is no reasonable alternative” and the hospital has first made a good faith effort to have such overtime hours covered on a voluntary basis: 1) To any nurse participating in an ongoing surgical procedure until such procedure is completed; 2) to any nurse working in a critical care unit until such nurse is relieved by another nurse who is commencing a scheduled work shift; 3) in the case of a public health emergency; or 4) in the case of an institutional emergency.  The bill provides for certain reporting requirements to the Department of Public Health, prohibits discrimination/retaliation against a nurse refusing to work overtime, and provides a private right of action for those nurses alleging a violation of the bill’s provisions.  Finally, the bill would exempt employees covered by collective bargaining agreements in effect before July 1, 2022 from the overtime restrictions outlined above.

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION: S.B. No. 320 (“An Act Concerning Raising The Threshold For Unemployment Overpayments”) would increase the threshold dollar amount used to determine whether unemployment compensation fraud is a misdemeanor or a felony from $500 to $2,000. S.B. No. 317 (“An Act Concerning Unemployment For Striking Employees”) would provide that the exception to eligibility for unemployment compensation for striking employees would not apply after a period of two consecutive weeks of such labor dispute.  S.B. No. 315 (“An Act Concerning Unemployment Benefits For Adjunct Higher Education Faculty”) would specify the circumstances/factors for determining whether individuals who perform instructional, research or principal administrative duties at an institution of higher education in the state have a reasonable assurance of performing such services in the succeeding academic years or terms and thus are ineligible for unemployment compensation benefits.  The bill would not alter the current provisions governing other educational institutions (and other employees of educational institutions).  

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION AND COVID-19: S.B. No. 417 (“An Act Concerning Amnesty For Nonfraudulent Unemployment Overpayments”) would cover unemployment compensation claimants who through error (and not by fraud, or willful misrepresentation or  nondisclosure)  received benefits on and after March 10, 2020 and before December 31, 2021, while any condition for the receipt of benefits imposed by the unemployment compensation laws was not fulfilled, or received a greater amount of benefits than was due.  The bill creates a “Pandemic Unemployment Nonfraudulent Overpayment Program,” to which such covered claimants may submit a claim for assistance.  Subject to available appropriations, and the Program’s procedures, the assistance provided by the Program shall be the following:  1) A claimant shall be reimbursed for any repayment or offset from the claimant's unemployment benefits, and 2) an amount equivalent to any outstanding repayments shall be deposited in the Unemployment Compensation Fund on behalf of the affected claimant.  The unemployment compensation administrator shall notify all such claimants of their rights to apply for assistance under this Program.  H.B. No. 5442 (“An Act Concerning Experience Rate”) would require the Connecticut  Department of Labor to study the effects on certain businesses that had their experience rate increase  despite last year’s  passage of Public Act 21-5 (“An Act Concerning The Removal Of COVID–19 Related Layoffs From The Unemployment Compensation Experience Account”) and to then submit a report with its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly’s Labor and Public Employees Committee by January 1, 2023.  Such report would include identification of employers that had increased experience rates, identification of how many people were impacted and identification of the cost to both the state and the employer.

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION AND CANCER RELIEF BENEFITS FOR FIREFIGHTERS: S.B. No. 313 (“An Act Concerning Adoption Of The Recommendations Of The Task Force To Study Cancer Relief Benefits For Firefighters”) would establish a rebuttable presumption that for purposes of determining eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits, a firefighter's diagnosis of cancer arises out of and in the course of employment as the result of exposures particular to the  duties performed as a firefighter for any condition of cancer affecting  the brain, skin, skeletal system, digestive system, endocrine system, respiratory system, lymphatic system, reproductive system, urinary system or hematological system that results in death, or temporary or permanent total or partial disability.  The bill sets forth that this presumption shall only be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence of any of the following: 1) The firefighter had a physical examination upon entry into such service, or subsequent to entry, that revealed evidence of the claimed cancer; 2) the firefighter has failed to submit to annual physical  examinations subsequent to entry into such service or that subsequent  physical examinations have revealed evidence of such cancer or a  propensity for such cancer; 3) such firefighter has used cigarettes, or any other tobacco products within 15 years of the diagnosis of the claimed cancer; 4) such firefighter has worked less than at least five years on or after February 1, 2017, as a) an interior structural firefighter at a or volunteer fire department, or b) a local fire marshal, deputy fire marshal, fire investigator, fire inspector, at the time such cancer is discovered, or should have been discovered; 5) the firefighter has not used respiratory protection and other personal  protective equipment for a period of five consecutive years; or 6) the claimed cancer is not one that is known to result from exposure to heat, radiation  or a known carcinogen.

ADDITIONAL UNION WORKER PROTECTIONS: H.B. No. 5444 (“An Act Concerning Union Workers”) would revise the State’s Labor Relations Act so as to make it an unfair labor practice for an employer to 1) misrepresent to an employee that the employee is included or excluded from a bargaining unit, or 2) permanently replace an employee who participates in a strike.  This bill would specify that negotiations between an employer covered by the Act and a newly designated/elected exclusive bargaining representative shall commence not later than 30 days after such designation or election, unless both parties mutually agree to delay the negotiations to a date certain or a delay is ordered by the State Board of Labor Relations.

ESSENTIAL WORKERS” PANDEMIC PAY/BENEFITS:  H.B. No. 5356 (“An Act Concerning Pandemic Pay For Essential Workers”) would establish an “Essential Employees Pandemic Pay Program” that would be administered by the Comptroller to pay out of state funds to “essential workers" (workers deemed eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination in “phases 1a, 1b or 1.c” of the vaccination program who were employed during the period of the COVID-19 state of emergency) $2,000 for full-time employees and $1,000 for part-time employees, within available appropriations on a first come, first-served basis.  The bill sets forth the process and criteria for applying to the state for such pay. The bill also provides that no employer shall: 1) Discharge or in any manner discipline or discriminate against any employee because the employee has filed an application for pandemic pay, or 2) deliberately misinform or dissuade an employee from filing an application for payment from the Connecticut program. The bill provides a private cause of action for those alleging a violation of this provision.  In addition, S.B. No. 422 (“An Act Concerning The Essential Workers Covid-19 Assistance Program”) would amend the “Essential Workers’ COVID-19 Assistance Program” that was enacted in 2021 so as to also cover those essential workers who contacted COVID-19 between July 21, 2021 and the end of the Governor’s State of Emergency and experienced “uncompensated leave” or inability to work due to COVID-19.

WAREHOUSE WORKERS AND WORK QUOTAS:  S.B. No. 314 (“An Act Concerning Protection Of Warehouse Workers”) would cover employees at “warehouse distribution centers” and would require employers to  provide each employee a written description of each performance quota the employee is subject to (and potential adverse employment actions an employee may suffer for a failure to meet the quota). An employer may not take adverse action against an employee for a quota that has not been disclosed.  An employee shall not be required to meet any quota that prevents compliance with the duty-free lunch/meal periods laws, or the Occupational Safety and Health Act, along with “the use of bathroom facilities, including the reasonable time to travel to and from bathroom facilities.”  Any current or former employee who believes that meeting a quota caused a violation of these rights may request a written description of each quota to which the employee is subject and a copy of the employee's own personal work speed data for the most recent 90 days. An employer that receives such a request shall comply with it as soon as practicable, but not later than 21 days after the request. The bill further provides that there shall be a rebuttable presumption of unlawful retaliation if an employer in any manner discriminates, retaliates or takes any adverse action against any employee within 90 days after the employee: 1) Initiates the employee's first request in a calendar year for such information about a quota or personal work speed data; or 2) makes a complaint related to a quota alleging any violation of these provisions to the Labor Commissioner.  The bill provides a right to seek redress of such violations through either administrative proceedings before the Department of Labor or a private right of action in the Superior Court.   

PRIOR CONVICTIONS AND OCCUPATIONAL LICENSING: H.B. No. 5248 (“An Act Concerning Collateral Consequences Of Criminal Convictions On Occupational Licensing”) would limit the ability of state licensing agencies to revoke, suspend or deny certain occupational licenses for the commission of felonies to only those felonies “that are reasonably related to the holder's ability to safely or competently perform” their work.  Among the practitioners affected by this revision would be licensed clinical and master social workers, art therapists, dietician-nutritionists, architects, public accountants, certain tradespersons, estheticians, eyelash technicians, and nail technicians.  The bill also extends the prohibition against the Department of Public Health summarily taking action with respect to practitioners for conviction of a felony to cover licenses for embalmers and funeral directors.

AIR QUALITY IN PUBLIC SCHOOL CLASSROOMS: S.B. No. 423 (“An Act Improving Indoor Air Quality In Public School Classrooms”) would among other things, require the Labor Department to establish mandatory public school temperature and relative humidity ranges. The temperature and relative humidity readings for public school facilities would be taken in a location or locations that are illustrative of the highest and lowest temperature and relative humidity in the school facility during school activity hours.  This bill would also require Commissioner of Labor, in consultation with the Commissioner of Education and the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management to establish a routine school indoor air quality assessment and ventilation monitoring program that is consistent with the minimum requirements of the “ASHRAE Standard 62” and this bill for use by local and regional boards of education. The Labor Commissioner shall post the requirements of such program on the Labor Department's web site.

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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 2022 session of the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on May 4, 2022, so stay tuned to see if any of these bills are eventually enacted.

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