The latest legislative session gave rise to several interesting new employment statutes, most of which take effect on October 1. This year’s new laws include:
An Act Concerning Employee Online Privacy
The National Labor Relations Board and the courts are steadily redefining social media as the new office water cooler, where employees can gather to freely discuss issues about their employment without interference from employers. Connecticut has now codified some of the protections provided to employees who operate on social media with a new statute that applies to all employers in the state, except state or municipal law enforcement agencies conducting pre-employment investigation of enforcement personnel.
The new law prohibits Connecticut employers from mandating that employees and applicants furnish the employer with access to their social media accounts. Employers also cannot require an employee or applicant to access their social media account in the employer’s presence, or require the employee or applicant to accept the employer as a social media contact. Employers cannot discharge, discipline, penalize or refuse to hire any employee or applicant who relies on the statute to maintain their social media privacy. The Labor Commissioner is allowed to impose fines, and order reinstatement and back pay if a violation of the statute is found to have occurred.
There are limits to the protections offered by the new law. Employers can require employees to participate in business-related social media accounts maintained by the employer. The law also provides no protections to employees or applicants who post confidential information belonging to the employer without the employer’s permission. If an employer believes that such an abuse has occurred the employer can conduct an investigation that includes requiring the employee or applicant to allow the employer access to the employee or applicant’s online account. How and when such an investigation is appropriate will likely be the source of controversy.
An Act Concerning an Employer’s Failure to Pay Wages
This new statute makes it more expensive for an employer to violate Connecticut’s wage and hour standards. Effective October 1 if an employer fails to provide the full minimum wage, overtime wage, or fails to satisfy a labor arbitration award the court must automatically award double the amount of the underpayment. The employer can only avoid the penalty if he or she is able to demonstrate that the underpayment was made in a good faith belief that the employer was complying with the law.
An Act Protecting Interns from Workplace Harassment and Discrimination
All Connecticut employers are subject to this new law, which is intended to protect unpaid interns from sexual harassment and employment discrimination. Interns are defined as unpaid individuals who work on a temporary basis for the purpose of receiving training. Employers are prohibited from making hiring or employment decisions concerning interns on the basis of their race, color, religious creed, age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, past or present mental disability, or intellectual or physical disability. It is also a violation of the act for employers to make unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or engage in other conduct of a sexual nature that serves as the basis of the intern’s employment status or creates an offensive working environment.
An Act Concerning the Loss of and Operator License due to a Drug or Alcohol Testing Program
This modification to the statute that creates unemployment compensation provides relief to employers when an employee becomes eligible for unemployment benefits due to a loss of wages resulting from the suspension of the employee’s license following a DUI arrest. Under the new standard, rather than charging the employer’s individual unemployment compensation account, the expense of the benefit paid to the employee will be shared by the entire unemployment compensation system.
An Act Concerning Pay Equity and Fairness
There are no secrets in the workplace, and this new law, which took effect on July 1, helps guaranty the truth of that adage. Under the statute any individual or entity that uses the service of one or more employee for pay cannot prohibit any employee from discussing the amount of his or her compensation with another employee. No employer can require an employee to sign a document that requires the employee to maintain as confidential the amount of his or her compensation. If an employer violates the statute an employee has two years from the date of the violation to seek damages, which can include attorney’s fees, court costs, and punitive damages. It will be interesting to see how this new standard of openness will impact high-end employment agreements, which often contain confidentiality provisions for the benefit of both the employer and the employee.