On September 25, 2012, the Connecticut Supreme Court held in Velez v. Comm’r of Labor, 306 Conn. 475 (Conn. 2012) that the Connecticut Family and Medical Leave Act (CFMLA) applies only to employers with 75 or more employees located within the state of Connecticut, irrespective of the total number of employees it employs elsewhere.

On its face, the CFMLA defines an “employer” as “a person, enterprise or business who employs seventy-five or more employees.” The regulations promulgated under the CFMLA echo this definition, adding only that “the number of employees of an employer shall be determined on October first annually.” Neither expressly includes a geographical restriction limited to Connecticut.

Prior to Velez, and due to the lack of clarity present in the statutory and regulatory language, many multi-state employers that employed even a single person in Connecticut felt obligated to provide CFMLA benefits if their total workforce consisted of 75 or more employees nationwide. This method of determining inclusion under state law differed substantially from the federal rule under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides that employers are subject to the Act’s provisions if they have at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.

In Velez, the plaintiff filed a complaint with the Connecticut Department of Labor (DOL) against Related Management Company (RMC), her former employer, alleging a violation of the CFMLA.  Although RMC employed over 1,000 employees throughout the United States, the Commissioner of Labor dismissed the complaint, interpreting the definition of “employer” under the CFMLA as limiting the statute’s application to employers with 75 or more employees within the state of Connecticut.

On appeal, the trial court found for the plaintiff, determining that the Commissioner’s limited reading of the statute was unreasonable.

The Connecticut Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s decision, holding that the Commissioner’s interpretation of the statute and, particularly, the regulations, was both reasonable and congruous with the intent of the statute. The Velez decision is a victory for multi-state employers, not only because it brings the number of covered employees more in line with federal law, but because the provisions of the CFMLA are generally more onerous for employers than those of its federal counterpart. For example, the CFMLA has a lower hours worked threshold and does not contain a highly-compensated employee exemption. It also provides for a longer leave period than its federal counterpart and forbids employers from considering leave time in determining an employee’s bonus eligibility.

Employers with less than 75 employees in Connecticut should review their employee manuals and posted policies and update them in accordance with this newly clarified rule.