Employers can expect an active 2021 Connecticut General Assembly since the 2020 legislative session was cut short. (The session lasted a little over a month before it was suspended on March 12, 2020, due to the pandemic and then officially adjourned on May 6, 2020.)
This year’s session commenced on January 6, 2021, and it will adjourn on June 9, 2021. However, before the legislative session even started, Connecticut employers had to address a new 0.5 percent payroll deduction for employees to support the state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave Act program (although the benefits of the program are not available until 2022) and an increase to the minimum wage ($13.00 per hour on August 1, 2021). With the legislative session now underway, here are a few employment-related legislative efforts that employers will want to keep an eye on.
The following bills were introduced during the first few weeks of 2021 by the Connecticut General Assembly’s Senate or House of Representatives and, if passed, may affect Connecticut employers.
An Act Prohibiting Covenants Not to Compete Involving Physicians (Senate Bill [S.B.] No. 99)
The proposed Senate bill would “prohibit covenants not to compete involving physicians.” In the 2020 general session, a similar law was contemplated but did not make it out of committee. Connecticut already restricts the use of physician noncompete agreements, limiting such agreements to, for instance, a geographic scope of up to 15 miles from the “primary site where such physician practices” and a temporal restriction of 1 year.
An Act Prohibiting On-Call Shift Scheduling (S.B. No. 143)
The current proposed Senate bill lacks specificity, but seeks to “prohibit the practice of on-call shift scheduling.” Predictive scheduling has become the new cause célèbre among labor activists around the country. Other areas that have passed legislation on the topic include Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Oregon.
An Act Concerning Breastfeeding in the Workplace (House Bill [H.B.] No. 5158)
The proposed House bill would “require employers to make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location … where employees can express breast milk in private.” As currently written, the bill would implement several requirements regarding the location that an employer provides for breastfeeding, including that the room be “in close proximity to the work area” and not a bathroom stall, “free from intrusion and shielded from the public,” “near a refrigerator or employee-provided portable cold storage device,” and situated with “access to an electrical outlet.” Connecticut law already provides female employees with the right to express milk or breastfeed on-site at the workplace, so this bill would enhance those rights.
An Act Suspending Employee Paid Family Medical Leave Contributions During a COVID-19 Public Health or Civil Preparedness Emergency (S.B. No. 223)
The proposed Senate bill would suspend the collection of the employee payroll contribution mandated by the recent Connecticut Paid Family and Medical Leave Act “during a declaration of a public health or civil preparedness emergency related to COVID-19.”
An Act Deterring Age Discrimination in Employment Applications (S.B. No. 56)
The proposed Senate bill seeks to prevent the use of an employment application “to discriminate against potential employees based on age.” The Connecticut General Assembly proposed similar legislation during the 2020 session. The 2020 proposed bill sought to make it a discriminatory employment practice for an employer to request or require a prospective employee’s age, birth date, or graduation date on an initial employment application.
An Act Concerning the Removal of COVID-19 Related Layoffs From the Unemployment Compensation Experience Account for the Calendar Year 2021 (H.B. No. 5377)
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an unprecedented number of unemployment claims. According to the Connecticut Department of Labor, as of December 16, 2020, the state had borrowed $402 million from the Federal Unemployment Account in order to continue paying unemployment benefits. The proposed House bill looks to “exclude Covid-19 related layoffs from [an employer’s] unemployment compensation experience account and new contribution rate for the calendar year 2021.”
These, of course, are only proposed bills. If they make it out of committee, they may look very different from their current versions.
Based on the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions, below are other potential issues that the Connecticut General Assembly may face in the 2021 session.
Criminal Histories and Employment
In July 2019, Governor Ned Lamont signed An Act Establishing a Council on the Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Record (Public Act No. 19-142). The intent of the council was to “study discrimination faced by people in Connecticut living with a criminal record and develop recommendations for legislation to reduce or eliminate discrimination based on a person’s criminal history.”
In 2020, the Labor and Public Employees Committee heard H.B. No. 5389. Among other things, the bill sought to make it a discriminatory practice for an employer to take adverse employment action against someone because of his or her criminal history, unless the employer engaged in an individualized assessment of the criminal record and its impact on the individual’s ability to perform the functions of the position. The committee may revisit similar legislation in 2021.
States across the country continue to legalize the possession and use of marijuana. Under Connecticut law, the unauthorized possession of less than one-half ounce of marijuana is punishable by fines and other potential penalties, whereas unauthorized possession of one-half ounce or more is generally a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison, fines, and other consequences. Marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law.
Over the past several years, various committees in the Connecticut General Assembly have voted favorably on legislation intended to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana use. In 2019, legislative committees favorably reported bills that would have similarly legalized and regulated cannabis for adult recreational use. For example, the Joint Committee on Judiciary voted out a bill (S.B. No. 1085) that would have allowed (1) individuals age 21 or older to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis under specified conditions and (2) “anyone convicted for possessing” up to that amount “to file a court petition to erase the related police, court, and prosecutorial records.” In this session, the legislature will likely consider similar proposals.
Ogletree Deakins will monitor these bills and other new employment-related legislation as Connecticut’s 2021 legislative session continues and will post updates to the firm’s Connecticut blog.
In addition, Ogletree Deakins will continue to report on developments with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic and will post updates in the firm’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center as additional information becomes available. Important information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar and podcast programs.