Labor Committee Bills Threaten Economy, Job Recovery
This week, the General Assembly’s Labor and Public Employees Committee approved bills that if enacted, represent a series of devastating blows to a Connecticut economy and jobs recovery effort that, by all metrics, is still suffering from the pandemic.
The following is the list of legislation approved by the committee that now heads to either the state Senate or House, depending on the bill, for further action.
HB 6383: An Act Concerning Call Centers and Notice of Closures. Don’t let the title fool you into thinking this applies just to a stereotypical call center. This bill Imposes a $10,000 per day fine for any phone or computer-based customer service provider that does not provide at least 100 days notice of attempting to relocate operations out of state. It also requires any business conducting customer service work for the state to perform all such work entirely within Connecticut.
HB 6380: An Act Concerning the Disclosure of Salary Range for a Vacant Position. Unlike previous iterations, this bill does not require employers to include a salary in any posted job vacancy. Our opposition stems from Section Two, which undermines the merit pay system by requiring equal pay for comparable work rather than equal pay for equal work. How do you entice an employee to take a less favorable shift or location if you can’t offer them more than others are earning?
SB 668: An Act Concerning a Fair Work Week Schedule. This bill adds a host of new requirements related to hiring and scheduling employee shifts. Employers will need to ask employees about their desired number of hours and shift locations and provide a weekly estimate of hours upon hiring. Any change in schedules without 14 days notice results in financial penalties for the employer. Employers will also need to verify if they are meeting employee scheduling requests before they can hire any new employees.
SB 906 and HB 6379: An Act Concerning Noncompete Agreements. Makes any noncompete agreement invalid after July 1, 2021 if the employee is a non-exempt (hourly) employee, or if the individual is an exempt employee earning three times the minimum wage ($93,600 for a full time employee at $15 an hour) or an independent contractor earning five times the minimum wage ($75 hourly). The bills impose similar restrictions on exclusivity agreements. The major concerns? Salary alone does not dictate whether an employee has access to proprietary or confidential information or customer lists, and the minimum wage is now indexed and increases every year, setting a threshold off a moving target.
HB 6475: An Act Concerning Forced Arbitration Agreements. This bill is incredibly dangerous, and mirrors a law in California that has been heavily abused by the trial bar, with nearly 2,000 times more complaints this past year than when it initially was enacted in 2004. In essence, the bill outsources the power of the state attorney general to labor unions and allows them to bring claims on behalf of employees against businesses, imposing massive new financial penalties and undermining legitimate contracts to further personal and political goals and financial self-interest. The majority of any settlement doesn’t even go to any aggrieved employee, but to the union and the state.
HB 6474: An Act Concerning Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Career. Makes it even easier for job applicants with a criminal history to bring a discrimination claim against an employer that denies employment based on that history. An employer’s only defense from such claims requires proving there is a substantial nexus between the criminal history and the job being sought, there is substantial evidence the applicant has not been rehabilitated, and that insufficient time has elapsed since the crime. The bill is not clear how to meet these burdens of proof. The committee amended the bill prior to passage to add the contents of HB 6596, which CBIA did support. The new language removes some barriers for individuals with criminal histories from obtaining occupational licenses, although it is unfortunate that this beneficial bill was folded into one with so many problems.
HB 6536: An Act Requiring Adequate Equipment and Reimbursement for Employees Working from Home. Imposes significant financial penalties on employers that fail to fully reimburse employees for all necessary expenditures the employee believes is needed to work from home. In some cases where employers have clear rules in place, this may not be a problem. However, there is no arbiter that determines what is and what is not truly necessary. Employers can submit expenses for reimbursement for anything they subjectively believe was necessary to perform their job after the expenditure was made.
HB 6595 and SB 1002: An Act Concerning Labor Matters Related to COVID-19, Personal Protective Equipment, and Other Staffing Issues. Omnibus bills that include the following objectionable items: allow claimants to bring a workers’ compensation claim regardless of whether they suffered a physical injury; allow individuals not party to a claim to request hearings; create a presumption that an employee that contracted COVID-19 did so in the workplace; require employers to rehire laid off employees in order of seniority; require employers to provide 80 hours of paid sick leave to every employee; and provide supplemental unemployment benefits in the event they are needed to receive additional federal benefits.
HB 6377: An Act Concerning Labor Peace Agreements and a Modern and Equitable Cannabis Workforce. Section Three places conditions on employment policies regarding the use or consumption of cannabis in the course of employment, and prohibits employers from requiring, as a condition of employment, that employees refrain from using cannabis outside the course of their employment.
SB 658: An Act Requiring Employers to Recall Laid Off Workers in Order of Seniority. Requires employers to recall laid off employees in order of seniority, ignoring factors like productivity, skill level, attendance, and disciplinary history.
HB 6343: An Act Ensuring Fair Employee Protections for Gig Workers. Studies certain industries, like ridesharing services and food delivery services, and whether workers hire should be classified as employees or independent contractors.
HB 6344: An Act Establishing the Office of the Unemployed Workers’ Advocate. Creates an independent office to assist individuals filing unemployment claims.
The committee chose not to act on the following:
SB 661: AN ACT CONCERNING CAPTIVE AUDIENCE MEETINGS. This perennial attempt to disrupt employer-employee communications in the workplace was fortunately left behind.
The committee also took action on legislation that will help employers:
HB 5377: An Act Concerning the Removal of COVID-19 Related Layoffs from the Unemployment Compensation Experience Account for the Calendar Year 2021. To give credit where credit is due, this bill excludes COVID-19 related layoffs from applying against an employer’s experience rating for purposes of unemployment compensation. We appreciate the committee raising the bill, because it is absolutely necessary.
While the Labor Committee’s work has ended, the business community’s work to stop these harmful proposals has just begun.
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