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Connecticut lawmakers are considering a number of employment-related bills during the current legislative session, including the following.
Workers’ compensation for emotional trauma. Senate Bill (SB) 593 would allow employees to collect workers compensation benefits if they suffer from severe mental or emotional impairments due to witnessing the death or maiming of another human being in an act of violence. The move would benefit employees of the Sandy Hook Elementary School who are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of the carnage of Dec. 14, 2012.
“Numerous teachers from Sandy Hook Elementary School have filed workers’ compensation claims. They have all been denied because the current statute does not require workers’ compensation to cover their injuries. They have paid out of pocket costs for treatment, and have had to use sick, personal, or vacation time to seek treatment,”
said Melodie Peters, president of the Connecticut affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.
Addressing the employer’s point of view, Betsy Gara, speaking for the Connecticut Council of Small Towns, countered,
“Given the difficult budgetary pressures facing Connecticut’s small towns, we are very concerned about any proposal that will increase costs on municipalities. Although state aid to municipalities has been flat funded for more than a decade, costs for providing critical services…have increased dramatically. […] We oppose SB 593 which could significantly increase workers’ compensation costs for towns and cities.”
Prevailing wage. House Bill (HB) 6650 would increase the threshold amounts that determine whether public works projects are required to follow the state’s prevailing wage laws. The current monetary threshold is $400,000 for new construction and $100,000 for remodeling; the bill would raise those amounts to $1 million and $500,000, respectively. It is intended to provide local tax relief and facilitate public works projects.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, which supports the proposal, said that “[a]ppropriate thresholds for remodeling, refurbishing, and alteration—as well as new construction—are essential to allowing municipalities the ability to manage their limited resources.”
In addition to this proposal, a series of bills ranging from HB 5071 to HB 5079 would modernize, adjust, and change the state’s prevailing wage law, increase its threshold, and exempt certain projects from it.
Employer Bill of Rights. HB 5267 would establish an Employer Bill of Rights to protect employers from frivolous employee claims. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees opposes the bill, stating that “[e]mployers already enjoy vast power over their employees more so in our country than in any other Western democracy. At a time when the majority of our citizens is slipping into working poverty…what more power over their employees do employers need?”
The Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA), a powerful employer group, was skeptical about the proposal. Testifying for the CBIA, Eric Gjede said that the group liked the intent of the bill, but has serious concerns that if enacted improperly, it would do more harm than good to the business community.
“The bill calls for the labor department to develop and promulgate a bill of rights to protect employers from frivolous complaints and claims brought by employees. While we have the utmost respect for the labor department and its commissioner and a large number of highly professional employees, our concern is whether the department can objectively do this task when they are often a party to these complaints and claims (frivolous or otherwise). Without an abundance of employer input in the development of this bill of rights, and oversight by an independent third party, this proposal is problematic.”
Retail work on holidays. HB 5080 would allow employees of large retail stores to refuse holiday work assignments without repercussions, and would bar stores that do not abide by this requirement from opening on holidays.
Employers, including the CBIA, oppose the proposal.
Tim Phelan of the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association told lawmakers that the bill “unfairly targets and penalizes those retailers who voluntarily choose to open Thanksgiving night by forcing them to increase wages to those associates who work those times.”
The Connecticut affiliate of the AFL-CIO countered that it supported the proposal because retail workers’ choice to work holidays should not be mandated by the employer.
Overtime. HB 5124 states that employers would have to pay overtime (time and a half) for working more than five out of seven consecutive days or for working Sundays and holidays.
The Connecticut affiliate of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), a small employer group, criticized the bill as a new state mandate. “Many small businesses operate six days a week; their potential employees know this prior to accepting employment; and any scheduling or pay issues that may rarely arise are simply worked out between the employee and the employer without government intervention.”
The group added that small businesses in retail, services, automotive repair and others work on six day work weeks, and should not be penalized for responding to customer demand by being pen as they see fit.
Jobless benefits for seasonal workers. HB 5210 would make seasonal agricultural workers ineligible for jobless benefits. Labor Commissioner Sharon Palmer testified against the proposal, stating that it would put Connecticut out of conformity with federal law.
The Connecticut AFL-CIO stated that it opposed the legislation because agricultural workers are already specifically excluded from many commonplace protections such as OSHA, minimum wage, and the 40-hour workweek. “In our opinion, this legislation, if passed, further erodes these workers’ safety nets,” said Lori J. Pelletier for the labor group.
Unemployment eligibility. HB 5265 would require employees to be employed a minimum of 30 days before becoming eligible for UI benefits. The Connecticut AFL-CIO opposes the bill, stating that when an employee is unfortunate enough to lose their source of income and are eligible for unemployment benefits they should be immediately compensated.
The Connecticut NFIB supported the proposal, stating that a waiting period reflected the desire that an employee earn a minimum amount of wages in order to file a claim, adding that the legislature should also consider increasing the required earning threshold for an employee.
Diane Cadrain is an attorney who has been writing about employment law issues for more than 20 years.
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