Pot Legalized; Workplace Mandates Stuffed into Budget Bill
Special sessions are often times where a lot of legislative mischief occurs, typically involving bills that were unable to receive approval on their own being grouped together and voted upon with little time for lawmakers to review.
The 2021 special session was certainly no different in that regard.
The session concluded June 17 with the state Senate giving final approval to amended legislation legalizing recreational marijuana, and a massive 837-page implementer bill that spells out the tax and spending aspects of the new state budget—with a few anti-business workplace mandates stuffed in at the last minute.
SB 1201, which legalizes the production, sale, and adult possession and use of marijuana, was similar to a bill that passed the Senate in the final days of the regular legislative session but was not taken up by the House.
The bill survived last minute changes, a chaotic back-and-forth between the Senate and House, and a veto threat from Gov. Ned Lamont.
Lamont indicated he will now sign the bill, which allows those aged 21 or older to possess of 1.5 ounces of marijuana in public and six ounces at home from July 1, with sales expected to begin in May, 2022.
Connecticut is now the 19th state, along with the District of Columbia, to legalize cannabis for nonmedical use.
The bill includes employer protections for maintaining safe workplaces that CBIA and member company representatives advocated for, including:
- Employers can drug test employees and job applicants and take disciplinary action
- Employers can adopt policies prohibiting the possession and use of cannabis in the workplace
- No accommodations are required allowing employees to perform job duties under the influence of cannabis or possess or use marijuana in the workplace
- Employers may prohibit cannabis use outside the workplace if the employer adopted a policy under the bill’s conditions
- Employers are not limited from taking adverse or other employment action upon reasonable suspicion of an employee’s use of cannabis while working or determining that an employee shows specific, articulable symptoms of drug impairment while working
- With certain exceptions, an employee or prospective employee aggrieved by a violation of the bill’s employer limitations may, within 90 days after the alleged violation, bring a civil action
The budget implementer, HB 1202, was initially a 544-section bill identifying particular programs various appropriations were to be used for, as well as providing additional guidance on the relatively few tax policy changes made during the regular session.
However, there were also several other sections tucked inside that will have a negative impact on the business community, measures that failed during the regular General Assembly session that ended June 9.
For example, Section 6 impacts businesses that operate call centers or provide phone or computer-based customer services in the state.
Under that section, a business that makes the choice to move a portion of its call center operations out of Connecticut must notify the state Department of Labor 100 days in advance of relocating or face a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each day less of notice.
These notice provisions are duplicative of requirements already imposed under federal law that require covered employers to provide employees with 60 days’ notice of mass layoffs or plant closures and allows for penalties for failing to provide timely notice.
The section makes little sense in the age of telecommuting. For example, a small business with 50 full-time employees may only have a single employee providing call center customer service.
As written, should that company hire one full-time individual from out of state to split those call center duties while working out of their home office, the business could be subject to the financial penalties under the bill and be forced to repay any state tax credits received within the last five years.
The section is also problematic in that it requires all state-business-related call center and customer service work be performed entirely by workers within the state.
This provision is akin to an in-state contracting preference and may trigger surrounding state reciprocity laws.
This will likely result in fewer choices of contractors and more expensive contracts for taxpayers.
Sections 66-77 initially created new requirements for businesses related to customer data storage.
The language was similar to a bill in the regular session that required businesses to purchase software in effort to aggregate customer data in the event a customer asked for that data to be deleted.
Not only is the software expensive, but the aggregation of that data could result in hackers obtaining more information on individuals in the event of a data breach.
The business community worked with lawmakers to compromise on the issue, but the Senate initially opted for more draconian language in the first draft of the implementer.
The state House opted to strike the sections of the bill, with House Speaker Matt Ritter (D-Hartford) acknowledging there were not enough votes to support the provision, which likely will return next year.
Section 108 mandates that businesses provide up to two hours of unpaid leave for employees to vote on election day.
It is unclear why this language was needed given the expansion of absentee voting that was approved during the regular session.
Sections 309 to 315 lay out additional aspects of the complaint process for a denial of benefits under the state’s soon to be effective paid family and medical leave mandate.
Per the sections, denials can be appealed to the state’s labor commissioner.
If the commissioner dismisses the complaint, the employee can then appeal to the state Superior Court.
The bill also allows a claim to be brought directly to the court, skipping the administrative process altogether.
Sections 323 to 325 create the Connecticut Essential Workers COVID-19 Assistance Program.
The program is essentially a fund for individuals with pending workers’ compensation claims, or claims arising before July 20, 2022 related to the pandemic.
The claims will be paid using federal relief dollars, not from workers’ compensation carriers, which would ultimately be passed on in the form of premium increases to employers.
However, employers that deliberately misinform or dissuade employees from accessing the fund could be subject to civil legal action.
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