Labor & Workplace: UC Trust Fund Increased
With the spotlight this year on education reform and other issues, capital punishment and medical marijuana, lawmakers gave less attention than usual to labor and employment legislation.
Of the few proposals that advanced, only measures to increase the state minimum wage and unionize the personal care and child care industries gained widespread attention.
Here is a look at proposals that will have the greatest impact on Connecticut labor and employment practices.
Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund
Following the 2008 recession and the massive toll it took on states’ unemployment compensation trust funds, federal law was changed to require states borrowing money for benefits to increase their targeted reserves.
Consequently, the legislature enacted a measure (SB 258) that increases years the target amount of revenue that must be retained in the fund from $625 million to approximately $1 billion over the next five years.
To date, Connecticut has borrowed more than $710 million to provide unemployment benefits, and Connecticut employers have been paying for it through a special surcharge on their unemployment taxes.
With many employers still reeling from the recession and its impact on unemployment taxes, this bill fortunately will not increase their taxes for several years, even as the new goal is reached.
Another enacted measure affects employers’ participation in unemployment compensation hearings. HB 5232 clarifies procedural ambiguities regarding unemployment compensation hearings to allow employers more options for participating remotely or in person.
By law, the Department of Labor may hold hearings in person, by telephone or by other electronic means. This bill prohibits the administrator or examiner from unreasonably denying a request for an in-person hearing if a party insists upon it.
Wage and Hour Law
As the debate about legalizing the palliative use of marijuana took place (contained in HB 5389), several employers expressed concern about its impact on the workplace.
In response to those concerns, lawmakers amended the bill to allow employers to “prohibit the use of intoxicating substances during work hours” and “discipline an employee for being under the influence of intoxicating substances during work hours.”
However, employers may not refuse to hire an individual, nor may they discharge or penalize an employee, based on that individual’s “status as a qualifying patient or primary caregiver” under the new law.
Bills That Failed
Most significant this year is that several legislative proposals that would have impacted state labor costs and/or employment practices failed. Here is a look at the most notable bills that failed this year.
Discrimination Against the Unemployed
As originally drafted, SB 79 would have held employers liable for unlawful discrimination against the unemployed in hiring decisions by adding an individual’s unemployed status to the list of protected classes under state civil rights laws. That overreach ultimately was scrubbed from the bill—the final version, which failed, was amended to limit discrimination only in job postings and notices.
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
SB 184 would have clarified that Connecticut’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies only to employers with seventy-five (75) or more employees working in this state. Employers with large out-of-state workforces but a limited number of employees in Connecticut have been uncertain of their status under state FMLA.
SB 455 would have clarified the duties and responsibilities of employees of the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO); extended state civil rights and anti-discrimination protections to veterans, and required municipalities to comply with set-aside requirements for municipal projects funded by the state.
Unemployment Compensation Records
HB 5234 originally would have made it a felony for employers to make misleading declarations, statements, or representations in unemployment compensation payments and filings. The law already makes that behavior subject to criminal misdemeanor fines and penalties. Increasing the punishment to a class D felony would have been harsh and unwarranted—the bill, which ultimately failed, was amended to include only higher financial penalties.
State law already gives employees the right to inspect and copy their personnel records. HB 5235 would have expanded that right to include former employees, without limits, and significantly increased employers’ recordkeeping burdens.
Minimum Wage Hike
The Senate chose not to take up HB 5291 which would have increased the state minimum wage to $8.50 in 2013 and then again to $8.75 in 2014. While the proposal ultimately stalled in the Senate, House leadership says it wants to reconsider it in this summer’s special session. CBIA continues to urge lawmakers to resist those efforts.
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