Over the past few weeks, Governor Lamont signed several bills that will impact public and private employers in several ways. While there are other bills that will take effect in October 2022, and subsequently in 2023, we have summarized below the bills that have effective dates July 1, 2022 and earlier.
Senate Bill 163 becomes effective on July 1, 2022. It expands employees' First Amendment rights in the workplace. More specifically, with the passage of this bill, an employer cannot threaten to discharge, discipline, or subject an employee to discharge or discipline if an employee refuses to attend the employer's sponsored meeting for which the purpose is to communicate the employer's opinion regarding religious or political matters (defined to include labor organizations) or if an employee refuses to listen to such speech or communication. Employer-sponsored meetings include meetings with the employer or its agent, representative, or a designee. Employees will now be entitled to the full amount of their gross loss of wages or compensation, with costs and reasonable attorney fees if employers are found to be in violation.
Notably, the employer is not prohibited from (1) communicating information to employees that the employer is required by law to communicate; (2) communicating information to employees that is necessary for employees to perform their job duties; (3) engaging in communications from higher education agents or representatives to employees that is a part of coursework or other academic programming; and (4) allowing casual conversations between employees or between an employee and the employer or its agent.
Senate Bill 163 does not apply to a religious corporation, entity, association, educational institution or society that is exempt from the requirements of Title VII, Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 46a-60a, 46a-81a, and 46a-81o pursuant to section 46a-81p.
House Bill 5250 went into effect on May 24, 2022. This bill makes several minor and technical changes to the Workers' Compensation Act. For example, in several places the bill replaces "administrative law judge" with "chairperson" to clarify actions that fall within the Workers' Compensation Commission chairperson's jurisdiction. Most notably, the bill now includes the chairperson instead of the administrative law judge in notice and service processes. Additionally, the bill allows both in-person service and service through certified mail as required in various steps of the Workers' Compensation process.
Senate Bill 210 became effective on May 23, 2022. It makes a number of technical changes to the Department of Labor's ("DOL") statutes and repeals certain specific statutes including statutes regarding the DOL's self-employment assistance, the DOL's Department of Factory Inspection, and the DOL's procedures for developing a universal intake form and using video display terminals.
Of note, Senate Bill 210 eliminates a requirement for the labor commissioner to adopt regulations establishing procedures and requirements for granting exemptions to statutory meal period requirements, requires that the labor commissioner make the state's unemployment laws, regulations, and other related materials available online on the DOL's website, and removes a statutorily specified process for employees seeking to file complaints of potential occupational health and safety standard violations applicable to public employers and employees.
The bill also makes changes to the 2021 Unemployment Insurance Reform Act, the majority of which takes effect in 2024. Senate Bill 210 removes provisions from the 2021 Unemployment Insurance Act that established a one-year experience period for employers in calendar year 2026 and two-year experience period for employers in calendar year 2027, instead reverting back to the traditional three-year experience period. Rather than calculating an employer's unemployment insurance experience rate based on a one-year lookback (i.e. the amount charged to the employer's experience account for benefits paid to former employees and the amount of the employer's taxable wages in a one-year period), the experience rate will be calculated based on the benefit ratio for a three-year period.
The 2021 Unemployment Insurance Reform Act originally required that, effective calendar year 2022, if the average benefit ratio of all employers within an industry sector increased over the prior calendar year's average by at least 0.01, the DOL must adjust the benefit ratio for each employer in that sector downward by 50% of the average increase for the sector. While the substantive requirement remains the same, Senate Bill 210 delays the onset of this requirement until calendar year 2024.
Finally, Senate Bill 210 clarifies that the 2021 unemployment insurance reform providing that unemployment benefits be adjusted to account for inflation beginning in 2024 (unless the federal government provides a fully federally funded supplement to the benefit) excludes the application of construction workers' base period wages in determination of benefits or a reduction in the maximum benefit allowed by law.
House Bill 5442 became effective on May 24, 2022. It provides that the Labor Department shall study the effects on businesses that had their unemployment insurance experience rate increase despite the passage of Public Act 21-5. Public Act 21-5, effective July 2, 2021, was passed with the purpose of providing relief to businesses as a result of COVID-19 related losses by changing an employer's three-year experience period to a one-year experience period by omitting benefit payments and taxable wages for years 2020 and 2021. As noted by the proponents of House Bill 5442, an unintended consequence of Public Act 21-5 was that certain employers had their experience rates increase based on that truncated experience rate calculation, particularly those employers that had layoffs in 2019 but not during the pandemic. House Bill 5442 provides that the DOL shall report the findings of the study, including any employer that had its experience rate increase, how many people were impacted by that increase, and the cost to the state and the employer, to the joint standing committee of the General Assembly no later than January 1, 2023.
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