Lawmakers were prohibited from asking questions of a CBIA lobbyist during a marathon 13-hour public hearing of the Connecticut General Assembly's Labor and Public Employees Committee Feb. 9.
Co-chair Rep. Robyn Porter (D-New Haven) refused to let committee members question CBIA's Eric Gjede after he testified, despite questioning being allowed with previous witnesses.
Gjede waited for 10 hours during the hearing for his turn to speak and share the business community's position on a number of bills.
Several committee members objected to Porter's unprecedented decision.
"I know it's coincidental of course that the debate is being limited when it's my turn," Gjede told Porter. "I would like the opportunity at some point in time to be able to address the committee's questions.
"We represent thousands of businesses across Connecticut and they deserve to have their shot in this committee.
"We are continuously denied opportunities it seems to make bill suggestions and meet with the committee.
"If you are going to be cutting me off today, I do hope that at some point you will provide the opportunity to members of the business community to have our side fairly heard as so many others were heard today."
After a brief recess, the committee's other co-chair, Sen. Julie Kushner (D-Danbury) told the hearing that members could ask questions, but would be limited to three minutes.
A number of members objected to the time limits, and also asked that Gjede be recalled to answer questions, which Kushner agreed to do.
Marijuana Workplace Protections
Gjede testified at the hearing on a range of legislation with a significant impact on Connecticut employers and the state's recovery from the pandemic.
One of the most troubling bills was HB 6377, which invalidates employment policies prohibiting the possession, use, or other consumption of cannabis in the course of employment unless there is a clear business necessity.
In addition, it prohibits employers from requiring, as a condition of employment, that employees refrain from using cannabis outside the course of employment.
Gjede shared the results of a National Institute on Drug Abuse study, which found 55% more industrial accidents, 85% more injuries, and 75% greater absenteeism among employees who tested positive for marijuana compared to those who tested negative.
"Employers are increasingly under pressure to ensure safe workplaces for employees," he said. "While it may be possible for some employees to conduct job-related duties under the influence of marijuana, it is certainly not the case in many circumstances.
"Many businesses justifiably feel their employees or customers deserve the right to be free of concerns about whether the person next to them operating a piece of machinery, or driving their bus, or injecting their arm with a vaccine, etc. is under the influence."
States Protect Employer Rights
Gjede noted that as the legalization of recreational marijuana is happening in more states across the country, states are protecting employer rights to conduct pre-employment and post screening drug tests and enforce off-site cannabis use policies.
Examples from other states include:
- Colorado: On February 19, 2020, the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee of Colorado’s general assembly unanimously voted against H.B. 1089 (which would have protected off-duty cannabis use) at its first hearing following the testimony of opponents that it could compromise workplace safety.
- California: California allows employers to conduct pre-employment drug testing and, under certain conditions, to current employees. California employers maintain the right to enforce a drug-free workplace policy, including prohibiting cannabis.
- Illinois: Illinois lawmakers approved an amendment allowing employers to conduct reasonable drug testing and allowing employers to refuse to hire candidates or to discipline or fire employees who fail.
- Maine: Although recreational use of cannabis is legal, employers can refuse to hire job candidates based on the results of screening tests and may test employees.
- Massachusetts: Currently the law in Massachusetts does not protect job applicants or employees who test positive for cannabis.
- Michigan: Michigan legalized recreational cannabis use in 2020 but employers have not been required to change pre-employment drug screening tests.
- Oregon: In 2019, HB 2655 and SB 379, bills that would have prohibited employers from using positive drug tests for cannabis as grounds to refuse to hire a job candidate or fire an employee who failed.
- Vermont: Vermont’s employers can drug test employees and can make job offers contingent on the candidate passing a drug test.
- Washington: Allows employers to conduct pre-employment drug screening for cannabis and reject job applicants who test positive for the drug.
Call Center Fines
The committee also revived a measure from previous years that imposes stringent mandates on call centers.
HB 6383 sets a $10,000 per day fine for call centers that don’t provide at least 100 days notice of attempting to relocate operations out of state.
The bill also requires any business conducting customer service work for the state to perform all such work entirely within Connecticut.
Gjede told the committee that HB 6383 was a misguided attempt to prevent job losses in Connecticut.
"This is precisely why Governor Cuomo from New York refused to sign such a bill until significant changes were made," Gjede said.
"Governor Newsom vetoed a nearly identical bill and stated 'the significant penalties and restrictions proposed by this bill might dissuade businesses that have no intention of moving their operation from making any further investment in California—which could hurt, not help, California workers.
"Have we reached the point in Connecticut that we now have to impose civil penalties on businesses leaving our state?" Gjede asked.
"Would it not be more effective to continue to improve our economic and business climate so that businesses can afford to stay and grow here?
"Does legislation like this do more to stop businesses from leaving the state, or prevent new ones from coming to the state?"
Gjede also also testified in opposition to HB 6379, which invalidates any noncompete agreement after July 1, 2021 if the employee makes less than twice the minimum wage, or if the agreement was not made in anticipation of the sale of a business, if the employment relationship was ended by the employer, or if the employee leaves employment because they believe they have good cause attributable to the employer.
Noncompete agreements are critical tools used in industries concerned about the loss of important proprietary or confidential information.
While not appropriate in every employment context, they are critically important for many industries in exactly the contexts the bill is trying to restrict—as when an employer has to terminate an employment relationship, possible for misconduct, or when an employee leaves employment because they subjectively believe, but a court of law has not validated, they had good cause.
CBIA also opposes HB 6380, which requires that employers provide the salary range for a position upon an applicant’s request.
This measure undermines the merit pay system by requiring equal pay for comparable work.
CBIA will continue to monitor the committee’s legislative proposals and advocate against efforts to harm the state’s job creators and economic recovery.