Latest Developments from the Connecticut General Assembly: The Labor and Public Employees Committee Begins to Speak

Pullman & Comley - Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits Law

At its February 18, 2021 meeting, the General Assembly’s Labor and Public Employees Committee began the process of approving bills.  The following is a brief summary of the bills that the Committee voted favorably on and advanced out of committee.   

BREASTFEEDING IN THE WORKPLACE: The Committee approved House Bill No. 5158 (“An Act Concerning Breastfeeding In The Workplace”), which would amend current laws regarding lactation rooms in the workplace so as to require (provided there is no undue hardship) that such lactation rooms 1) be free from intrusion and shielded from the public while the employee expresses milk, 2) include or be situated near a refrigerator (or an “employee-provided portable cold storage device”) where an employee can store expressed breast milk, and 3) include access to an electrical outlet.   

HAIR-BASED RACIAL DISCRIMINATION: Addressing an issue that has come into our collective consciousness,the Committee approved House Bill No. 6376 (“An Act Creating A Respectful and Open World For Natural Hair”), whichwould amend the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act so as to prohibit discrimination on the basis of ethnic hairstyles (including hair textures) historically associated with race.

PREVAILING WAGE AND CONTRACTORS:  The Committee approved House Bill No. 6378 (“An Act Codifying Prevailing Wage Contract Rates”), which  would codify as the “prevailing wage rates” for covered construction contracts those rates established in “dominant” collective bargaining agreements or understandings between employers and labor organizations for the same work in the same trade or occupation in the town in which the project is being constructed.

SALARY RANGES FOR VACANCIES:  The Committee approved House Bill No. 6380 (“An Act Concerning The Disclosure Of Salary Range For A Vacant Position”), whichwould require employers to disclose to job applicants the salary ranges for vacant positions; this bill would also revise the state’s gender-based equal pay act by requiring the provision of “comparable” pay for “comparable” work (instead of the current “equal” pay for “equal” work).

TASK FORCES: Rediscovering its well-established affinity for task forces,the Committee approved House Bill No. 6381 (“An Act Establishing A Task Force Regarding The State Workforce And Retiring Employees”), which, asthe title suggests, would establish a task force to study the state workforce and retiring employees. The task force would study, among other things, the number of managerial and exempt employees that are eligible to retire, succession planning of executive branch agencies in preparation for retirements, and barriers to recruitment into the managerial and exempt workforce.

EXPANSION OF COLLECTIVE BARGAINING RIGHTS The Committee approved House Bill No. 6382 (“An Act Strengthening The Probate Court System”), which would allow Probate Court employees to be considered state employees for the purpose of collective bargaining.

CLOSING CALL CENTERS: The Committee approved House Bill No. 6383 (“An Act Concerning Call Centers and Notice of Closures”), which would limit the ability of call centers to relocate or cease operations in Connecticut by requiring them to notify the Commissioner of Labor at least 100 days prior to such relocation (and subjecting them to fines for violations of this provision). In addition, the bill provides that any call center employer that relocates to another state (or country) would be ineligible for any direct or indirect state grants, state-guaranteed loans, state tax benefits or other state financial support for a period of five years. Such a call center employer would also have to remit the unamortized value of any such state financial support it has received in the previous five years; however, this remittance requirement could be waived if the employer demonstrates that such requirement would: 1) threaten state or national security, 2) result in substantial job loss in this state, or 3) harm the environment.

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION AND PENSION BENEFITS: Finally, the Committee approved Senate Bill No. 836 (“An Act Concerning Permanent Partial Disability and Pension Offsets”), which would prohibit any municipality or special taxing district with a pension and retirement system from diminishing or eliminating any rights or benefits due to a retiree’s receipt of “permanent partial disability” workers’ compensation benefits. The bill indicates that it shall not be construed to interfere with or diminish the provisions of any previously negotiated collective bargaining agreement.

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Many of these bills (for example, breastfeeding in the workplace, hair-related discrimination, prevailing wage rates, and call center closures) have been considered in prior legislative sessions but never came to fruition.     The deadline for the Labor and Public Employees Committee to approve bills and advance them out of committee is March 30, 2021.  Bills affecting labor and employment issues may also emerge from other committees (such as the Judiciary and Planning and Development Committees).  The 2021 session of the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on June 9, 2021, so stay tuned to see if any of these bills are eventually enacted.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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