The following article was first posted on the Carmody Torrance Sandak & Hennessy LLP's Labor and Employment blog and is reposted here with permission.
On July 1, 2021, nearly 100 new laws took effect in Connecticut. Below is a summary of some key statutory changes that impacting employers and the workplace.
Minimum Wage Increase
Effective August 1, 2021, Connecticut’s minimum wage increased from $12 per hour to $13 per hour.
The minimum wage will increase to $14 per hour on July 1, 2022 and to $15 per hour on June 1, 2023.
Beginning January 1, 2024, the minimum wage will be published in the employment cost index, which is computed by the U.S. Department of Labor, and for the first time in Connecticut, the rate will rise in accordance with economic indicators.
Connecticut became the 19th state to legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 years and older. The new law will eventually permit the retail sale of marijuana, and erase certain marijuana-related convictions and provides employment protections for recreational marijuana use. Employment-related provisions will come into effect July 1, 2022.
Employers may continue to prohibit employees from working under the influence of marijuana, and from possessing or using marijuana while performing duties or on the employer’s premises.
However, beginning July 1, 2022, non-exempt employers (i.e., employers who are subject to the act's employment-provisions) may not prohibit the off work use of cannabis or take adverse action against a non-exempt employee (i.e., an employee who is protected) or a potential employee for a positive tetrahydrocannabinol test unless the employer has adopted a policy that states otherwise. Therefore, employers should review and update their drug and alcohol policy, as appropriate.
Employers may continue to conduct workplace drug testing in accordance with Connecticut law.
That is, an employer may take adverse employment action based upon: (i) a reasonable suspicion of an employee’s use of marijuana while performing work duties or on call; or (ii) an employer’s reasonable conclusion that an employee manifests “specific, articulable symptoms of drug impairment, while working at the workplace or on call that decrease or lessen the employee’s performance of the duties or tasks of the employee’s job position.”
The act states that such symptoms include, but are not limited to, the employee’s speech, physical dexterity, agility, coordination, demeanor, irrational or unusual behavior or negligence or carelessness in operating equipment or machinery, disregard for the safety of the employee or others, or involvement in any accident that results in serious damage to equipment or property, disruption of a production or manufacturing process, or carelessness that results in any injury to the employee or others.
The act provides that a positive test result for THC generally cannot be the sole basis for refusing to hire or refusing to continue to employ or otherwise penalize a prospective or existing employee, unless:
- Failing to do so would cause the employer to violate a federal contract or lose federal funding;
- The employer reasonably suspects an employee’s usage of marijuana while performing work duties; or
- The drug test result was based on a random drug test of an existing employee or a preemployment drug test of a prospective employee with a conditional job offer, pursuant to an employer’s written and distributed policy that a positive drug test for THC may result in an adverse employment action.
Employers in certain industries are exempted from having to comply with the employment-related provisions of the act. Exempted industries include: utilities, construction, transportation or delivery, education services, healthcare or social services, justice, public order, and safety activities, and national security and international affairs.
Certain job positions also are excluded from the employment-related job protections in the act. These positions include firefighters, emergency medical technicians, police officers and correctional officers, positions regulated by the Department of Transportation, positions that require OSHA certification of completion in construction safety and health, positions that require U.S. Department of Defense or U.S. Department of Energy national security clearance, positions for which the law’s employment provisions are inconsistent or conflict with an employment contract, collective bargaining agreement or federal law, or which are funded in whole or in part by a federal grant; positions that receive federal grants, or require supervision or care of children, medical patients or vulnerable persons, positions with the potential to adversely impact the health or safety of other employees or the public, as determined by the employer, and positions at a nonprofit organization or corporation whose primary purpose is to discourage the use of cannabis, or any other drug, to the general public.
Salary Range Disclosure
As mentioned in our previous blog, New Law Requires Employers to Disclose Wage Ranges and Expands Scope of Gender-Based Wage Discrimination, this new law, which becomes effective Oct. 1, 2021, requires employers to:
- Provide an applicant the wage range for a position for which the applicant is applying upon the earliest of (1) the applicant’s request, or (2) prior to or at the time the applicant is made an offer of compensation.
- Provide an employee the wage range for the employee’s position upon (1) the hiring of the employee, (2) a change in the employee’s position with the employer, or (3) the employee’s first request for a wage range.
The law defines a “wage range” as the range of wages an employer anticipates relying on when setting wages for a position.
This can include the actual pay scale, previously determined range of wages, actual range of wages for comparable positions, or the budgeted amount for the position.
New Gender Wage Discrimination Standard
Effective Oct. 1, 2021, Connecticut law will broaden the standard used for determining whether an employer is discriminating based on gender in the wages paid to employees.
Currently, an employee alleging pay discrimination based on gender must prove that they are paid a lower wage than an employee of the opposite gender for "equal" work that requires "equal" skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions.
The new law will prohibit employers from engaging in gender-based pay discrimination for "comparable" work, meaning that two employees exercising a comparable level of “skill, effort, and responsibility” under “similar work conditions.”
Employers may defend such claims of discrimination by demonstrating that a pay differential is made pursuant to: (1) a seniority system; (2) a merit system; (3) a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (4) a differential system based upon a bona fide factor other than sex, such as education, training, or experience.
The new law expands the list of bona fide factors other than sex to include credentials, skills or geographic location.
Age Inquiries in Employment Applications
Effective Oct. 1, 2021, employers are prohibited from requesting or requiring a prospective employee to provide their age, date of birth, dates of attendance at or graduation from an educational institution on an initial employment application, unless age is a bona fide occupational qualification or such information is required to comply with any provision of state or federal law.
Discrimination Based on Natural Hair
Connecticut recently passed the CROWN Act, which stands for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.
This law, effective March 4, 2021, prohibits discrimination on the basis of traits historically associated with race including, but not limited to, hair texture, and protective hairstyles.
Protective hairstyles includes, but is not limited to, wigs, headwraps and hairstyles such as individual braids, cornrows, locs, twists, Bantu knots, afros, and afro puffs.
Read Carmody’s previous blog on What Employers Need to Know About Connecticut’s New Anti-Discrimination Law, the CROWN Act for more details.
Employee Demographic Reporting
Employers must, as of the dates noted below, begin reporting employee demographic data with their quarterly unemployment reports.
The demographic data must include each employee’s gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, veteran status, disability status, highest education completed, home address, address of primary work site, occupational code, hours worked, days worked, salary or hourly wage, employment start date in the current job title, and, if applicable, employment end date.
Employers with 100 or more employees must start reporting in the third calendar quarter of 2024; employers with 99 or fewer employees must start reporting in the third calendar quarter of 2026; and employers with 49 or fewer employees without an electronic payroll system must start reporting in the third calendar quarter of 2028.
Education Assistance Programs
Employers with 100 or more employees must notify their Connecticut resident employees if the employer offers an education assistance program.
If the employer does offer such a benefit, the employer must provide details of the plan and how employees may apply for such benefits.
Time Off to Vote
Employers must provide each employee two hours of unpaid time off to vote in any state election or special election for U.S. senator, representative in Congress, state senator, or state representative.
To be eligible, the employee must request the time at least two working days in advance of the election. This law is currently in effect.
Connecticut law has for many years protected workers who assert their rights under the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Act from being discharged or discriminated against by their employer.
Connecticut recently expanded this law to also prohibit employers from disciplining, deliberately misinforming, or deliberately dissuading an employee from filing a claim for workers' compensation benefits or a claim for payment of benefits from the Connecticut Essential Workers COVID-19 Assistance Fund.
A new Connecticut law requires certain employers who are looking to hire employees to initially recall employees who were laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This law applies to hotels, lodging houses, food service contractors, and building service enterprises with 15 or more employees.
The law includes a detailed recall process and generally requires employees to be recalled in order of seniority.
About the authors: Nick Zaino is a partner and co-practice group leader of Carmody Torrance Sandak & Hennessy LLP's business services group. Romania Jawahir is a non-lawyer member of the firm’s labor and employment practice, pursuing an MBA with a concentration in Human Resources Management.