Connecticut recently passed two laws that merit the attention of employers nationwide. On July 1, 2011, the governor of Connecticut signed into law a bill that requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide paid sick leave to service workers. And on July 6, 2011, the governor signed a bill prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity or expression.

Mandatory Paid Sick Leave– Connecticut Leads the Way

The Act Mandating Employers Provide Paid Sick Leave to Employees (“Paid Sick Leave Act”), which goes into effect January 1, 2012, is the first of its kind to be passed by any state. Several other states, including Massachusetts (S.930 and H.1398), Georgia (HB 432), Illinois (SB0128), and California (AB 400), are currently considering similar legislation.

Connecticut’s Paid Sick Leave Act applies to employers with 50 or more employees. Under the Act, these employers must provide paid sick leave to all “service workers.” Service workers, as defined by the law, are workers who: (1)are paid hourly or are non-exempt under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and (2) work in an occupation that falls under one of 68 Bureau of Labor Statistics Standard Occupational Classification system titles. The entire list is too long to reproduce in full here, but a sample of occupations covered includes cashiers, food preparation workers, taxi drivers, bellhops, janitors, pharmacists, registered nurses, and mail clerks.

Under the Paid Sick Leave Act, service workers accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked, up to a maximum of 40 hours of leave per calendar year. Service workers may begin taking accrued sick leave after they have worked 680 hours. Employees must be permitted to carry over up to five unused sick days each year.

Workers may take paid sick leave for a number of reasons, including an illness, injury, or health condition; diagnosis, care, or treatment, of an illness, injury or health condition; or preventative medical care. The time off may be taken for the worker’s own illness or injury, or for that of the worker’s spouse or child.

Employees can also use paid sick leave days if they are a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault. This leave may be taken for medical care or counseling, to obtain services from a victim services organization, to relocate, or to participate in legal proceedings related to the family violence or sexual assault.

Starting January 1, 2012, workers must be given notice when they are hired of their right to take paid sick leave. The easiest way to accomplish this is by posting a notice. The notice should be placed in a conspicuous location, and must be printed in both English and Spanish.

Although the Paid Sick Leave Act will likely cover several hundred thousand employees in Connecticut, it is important to note the broad swath of employees who are not covered by the law. For example, the law does not apply to salaried workers or to workers who are considered exempt under the FLSA. The law also does not apply to day workers or temporary workers, or to any worker whose employer has fewer than 50 employees. Additionally, some employers with more than 50 employees are exempt from the law, including many manufacturers (specifically, those classified in sector 31, 32, or 33 in the North American Classification System), and the YMCA.

If your company currently has a paid leave policy that provides benefits at least equal to those offered under the Paid Sick Leave Act, you’re in luck – you are already in compliance with the new law. For example, if your company already offers at least five days of vacation time or PTO to employees, you are in compliance with the new law, as long as employees are permitted to use their vacation time or PTO for any of the reasons outlined in the Paid Sick Leave Act.

The Paid Sick Leave Act has many details and complexities, and is likely to cause headaches for many employers. That said, there are a few steps that covered employers can take now to start preparing for when the new law goes into effect on January 1, 2012.

First, conduct a review of your employees’ job descriptions and actual responsibilities, to determine which employees are covered by the Paid Sick Leave Act. Second, review your company’s current leave policies, and determine if the benefits that you currently provide are sufficient to meet the criteria set out in the new law. If they’re not, get the ball rolling to modify or change your policies so that they are in compliance with the new rules. Third, reach out to human resources experts or legal counsel sooner rather than later if you have questions about whether your company is subject to the new law, whether your employees are covered, or how to comply with the law’s requirements.

Understanding and ensuring compliance with all the Paid Sick Leave Act’s rules will not be an easy task for affected employers. Smart employers will take steps toward compliance now, so that they are ready when January 1, 2012 rolls around.

Prohibiting Discrimination against Transgendered and Transsexual Individuals – Connecticut Joins the Fray

Connecticut has officially joined the growing ranks of states to pass laws prohibiting gender identity discrimination. The new law, called An Act Concerning Discrimination (“the Act”), goes into effect on October 1, 2011. The Act protects individuals from discrimination in employment, housing, education, and in access to utilities, public accommodations, and credit, on the basis of their gender identity or expression. 

Connecticut is the fifteenth state to enact such a law. Connecticut employers with three or more employees are covered by the Act, which adds “gender identity or expression” to the list of protected groups that may not be discriminated against under Connecticut law. Now, in addition to race, sex, age, and other protected categories, employers are also prohibited from making employment decisions based on an individual’s gender identity or expression.

The Act defines “gender identity or expression” as “a person's gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person's physiology or assigned sex at birth.” In simpler terms, the law applies to transgendered and transsexual individuals.

There are several steps that employers can take now to make sure that they are in compliance with the new law by the time it becomes effective in October:

  1. Review and update your employment policies, including all Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), harassment, and discrimination policies, to ensure that they include “gender identity and expression” and are otherwise in full compliance with the Act.
  2. Train and educate your employees – both workers and managers/supervisors–on the requirements of the new law and on any new policies that you implement. Be available and willing to answer any questions that employees may have.
  3. Ensure that all employment policies and practices, including new policies regarding gender identity and expression, are consistently and uniformly applied in your workplace.