2019 Legislative Preview: Labor and Employment

Issues & Policies

The 2019 Connecticut General session will see the return of many of the same labor mandates that have concerned businesses over the past few years.
After Democrats increased their majorities by 12 seats in the state House and five in the Senate, progressive caucus members were quick to unveil their “Big Five” proposals for the session that begins Jan. 9.
CBIA, the leading voice in the fight against costly new labor mandates, presents a preview of what we can expect in the new legislative session:

$15 Hourly Minimum Wage

As was reported widely, the top priority among the Big Five legislative proposals is increasing the state’s current $10.10 per hour minimum wage to $15.
There’s little doubt the votes for a minimum wage hike are there, but the devil will be in the details.
Proponents have suggested they would stagger the increases annually beginning next year, and arrive at $15 by 2023.
Regardless, a nearly 50% increase in the minimum wage for Connecticut businesses will harm their ability to compete in national and international markets.
While minimum wage increases benefit some workers, an increase of this magnitude will result in less entry-level or low-skill employment opportunities.  

Paid Family and Medical Leave

Second among the Democrats’ top priorities is enacting paid family and medical leave.
For the past six legislative sessions, progressives have attempted to pass a statewide FMLA program that would apply to businesses with as few as two employees.
The 2018 proposal, which was not acted on by either the House or Senate, mandated that a certain percentage of an employee’s wages be deducted each pay period to fund the program.
In exchange, the employee would be eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave each year at 100% pay, capped at $1,000 per week.
Over the past few years, the number of family members in the proposed program for whom leave could be taken has expanded—from siblings and parents to grandparents and in-laws.
The 2018 proposal was so broad that it would have granted leave for someone you consider “the equivalent of a family member.”

A previous paid FMLA proposal required $13 million in startup costs and another $18 million in annual administrative costs.

While the wages paid to employees are directly funded through payroll deductions, the 2018 proposal required $13 million in startup costs and another $18 million in annual administrative costs for the 120-plus new state employees needed to run it.
Further, businesses were required to fund non-wage benefits for employees absent from the workforce for up to three months each year.
Supporters have ignored that the proposal has failed in Connecticut because it's so drastically different than paid FMLA programs adopted by only a few other states.
And no other state has allowed for the 100% wage replacement proposed in Connecticut because it provides no incentive for the employee to return to work.
While some in the legislature have promised to take up such a program, its design needs to receive careful consideration or the consequences to state businesses will be significant.

Workplace Harassment Prevention Training

Last session, the state House failed to take up a proposal approved by the Senate that significantly increased employer-paid requirements for workplace sexual harassment prevention training.
Organized labor lobbyists killed the bill they initially supported after it was amended to allow for the revocation of the pension of any state employee convicted of sexual assault.
Connecticut is one of three states that mandate certain employers to provide sexual harassment prevention training to certain employees.
Currently, any employer with 50 or more employees must provide two hours of sexual harassment prevention training to any employee with supervisory or managerial duties.
The 2018 bill required businesses with three or more employees to provide such training to every employee—not just those with managerial or supervisory roles.

The 2018 bill required businesses with three or more employees to provide workplace harassment training to every employee.

Despite the training's high per-employee cost, the business community expressed a willingness to provide it to more employees.
In fact, CBIA proposed minimizing the cost by having the state share an online training video that employees could view to satisfy legal requirements.
Further, CBIA sought to protect affirmative defenses to sexual harassment claims that the legislation eliminated.
If a business provides adequate training, properly investigates claims of harassment, takes corrective action, and prevents retaliation against the victim, it should continue to be protected from lawsuits.

Captive Audience

An old proposal that would have interfered with workplace communications was reprised last session and gained renewed momentum.
Captive audience bills let employees leave or skip workplace meetings if they believe the discussion includes the employer's views on various political topics.
The legislation's intended goal is to prevent businesses from providing their opinions on efforts to unionize the workplace.   
A chief complaint of the business community is that such a bill is a significant barrier to transparency and interferes with employer-employee communications.
A bill introduced in 2018 defined "political topics" so broadly that it could include everything from discussions on the impact of a regulation on the business to employer-sponsored charitable events.
Thankfully, Attorney General George Jepsen released a well-reasoned opinion that the legislation was preempted by federal law.
But it's unclear whether Jepsen's decision to not seek reelection will prompt organized labor to push the measure once again.

Other Issues

A recently enacted pay equity law that prohibits businesses from inquiring about a prospective employee's salary history takes effect January 1.
While its impact on alleviating gender-based salary gaps remains undetermined, advocates may try to expand the law and place new requirements on employers.
It also appears likely that a proposal restricting how businesses schedule work shifts will return, and an employer's ability to use various pre-employment screening processes could be curtailed as well.
While many of these proposals sound ominous, CBIA will continue to highlight the pitfalls of such legislation, and offer to work with proponents to find solutions that allow Connecticut businesses to remain competitive regionally, nationally, and globally.
Business owners throughout Connecticut need to establish relationships with their lawmakers, express legitimate concerns, and show a willingness to find workable solutions.

For more information, contact CBIA's Eric Gjede (860.480.1874) | @egjede


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