Several recent legal and cultural changes may influence the practices and policies of employers and their expectations of employees.
Reviewing and revising employee handbooks is an important step that employers can take to ensure their practices and policies are compliant with the applicable federal, state, and local laws.
Handbooks also provide an avenue for employers to communicate expectations to their employees related to their prescribed practices and policies.
Employers looking to update their handbooks may wish to discuss changes with competent legal counsel to be compliant with existing laws and ensure they are appropriate for their industry and workplace culture.
Connecticut employers may wish to address the following key topics in their employee handbooks for 2022.
Family and Medical Leave
Beginning Jan. 1, 2022, several significant changes to the Connecticut Family and Medical Leave Act will go into effect. In addition, covered employees will be eligible for paid leave benefits for certain qualifying reasons, consistent with the CTFMLA, including the birth or adoption of a child, the employee’s own serious health condition, and to care for a family member with a serious health condition.
These new changes to Connecticut leave law will likely necessitate changes to employer policies, practices, and procedures. This will include reviewing current employee leave policies, such as pregnancy leave and sick leave policies, to determine whether related polices are consistent.
Hair Texture and Style
Connecticut recently passed legislation prohibiting workplace discrimination based on hair texture and hairstyle.
The new law amends the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act, which prohibits employers with three or more employees from discriminating against employees based on protected characteristics, including race.
The legislation states that, effective March 4, 2021, “race” shall encompass ethnic traits historically associated with race, including hair texture and protective hairstyles.
“Protective hairstyles” include wigs, headwraps, individual braids, cornrows, locs, twists, Bantu knots, afros, and afro puffs. Employers also may want to review their equal employment opportunity policies to confirm consistency with this law.
Adult recreational use of marijuana was legalized in Connecticut on June 22, 2021. The new law contains several provisions that affect employers.
Specifically, effective July 1, 2022, employers may generally create and enforce policies to prohibit the possession, use, or other consumption of cannabis by an employee in order to maintain a drug-free workplace.
Employers may also take adverse employment action against an employee for the employee’s use of marijuana outside of the workplace, so long as the action is taken pursuant to an employer policy prohibiting such conduct.
Such policies must be in writing and made available to each employee prior to the policy’s enactment.
For prospective employees, employers must make the policies available at the time the employer makes an offer or conditional offer.
The new law also makes changes to reasonable suspicion testing obligations. Thus, employers may want to revise their handbooks to include applicable policies.
New Federal Holiday
On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed legislation making Juneteenth, or June 19, a federal holiday.
The date commemorates the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned of their freedom, two months after the Confederacy surrendered in the Civil War, and more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.
Employers with handbook policies regarding holidays may want to amend those policies and/or amend other current time off options for employees in light of this legislation.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers allowed their employees to work remotely.
Some employers have contemplated altering work arrangements for their employees on a more permanent basis as they encourage employees to return to the workplace.
Employers who offer new work arrangements, allow for more flexible schedules, or hire a remote workforce may want to update their employee handbooks to reflect these changes.
Employers may want to include information related to working remotely, such as appropriate communication tools and systems for meetings, protection of confidential information, employee oversight, electronic monitoring of remote employees, professional development, work hours, required hours of availability, and time off.
Additionally, employers may include a remote working alternative within any emergency or inclement weather closing policy.
Ensuring that the workplace is inclusive and productive is critical to employers. As part of that commitment, employee handbooks may need to be updated to encompass more inclusive pronouns or otherwise reflect nonbinary gender identities.
Age of Applicants
On June 24, 2021, Connecticut passed legislation prohibiting employers with three or more employees from asking about a job applicant’s age, date of birth, graduation date(s) or dates of attendance at an educational institution on an initial application for employment, unless the request is based on a bona fide occupational qualification or if the information is required for complying with federal or state law.
Employers may want to review their equal employment opportunity policies and hiring procedures to ensure consistency with this law.
Current law regarding expressing milk and breastfeeding in the workplace in Connecticut requires an employer with one or more employees to make a reasonable effort to provide a location, in close proximity to the work area, where an employee can express milk in private.
Beginning Oct. 1, 2021, this location must (1) be free from intrusion and shielded from the public while such employee expresses breast milk, (2) include or be situated near a refrigerator (or employee-provided portable cold storage device), and (3) include access to an electrical outlet.
Employers who have pregnancy accommodation policies may want to update them to ensure compliance with these new criteria.
Connecticut recently passed legislation, effective June 23, 2021, that requires employers to grant employees two hours of unpaid time off to participate in state elections.
Under this new law, the employee must request such time off not less than two working days prior to the election.
Employers may wish to modify handbooks that include voting leave policies to ensure compliance with the new law.
About the authors: Stephen W. Aronson is a partner with Robinson + Cole and chair of the firm's employment litigation practice group. Rachel V. Kushel and Abby M. Warren are partners at Robinson + Cole and Kayla N. West is an associate in the firm's labor, employment, benefits, and immigration group.