On June 9, 2021, the Connecticut State Senate passed SB No. 658. This clears the bill for the Governor’s signature, which will officially make it law. This will be a huge win for Connecticut workers laid off during the pandemic.
As we all know, many workers were laid off due to the Coronavirus pandemic starting in March of 2020. At the height of the pandemic, the unemployment rate in Connecticut was somewhere around 8.3%. That is unprecedented. Many workers, particularly in the service industry, lost their jobs. While there was state and federal aid to ease the burden, much of that has expired. With the economy opening back up, many workers are worried that they will not be rehired when business begin to get back to full staff. Worry no longer.
SB No. 658 states that anyone laid off during the pandemic must be recalled when their old job or a similar job, becomes available. Of course, there are limitations. This bill only covers workers who were laid off from March 10, 2020, through May 1, 2021. The bill requires employers that laid off employees during the pandemic, and are now looking to expand their workforce, to notify all laid off employees of job openings for jobs they are qualified for. This includes the jobs the employee had, similar jobs that they are able to perform, and jobs the employee can be trained for in the same way a new employee would have been trained. If two laid off employees are both qualified for a single opening, the employee with the most seniority will have preference.
Once a laid off employee is called back, he or she will have ten days to respond. If the employee declines recall because of a pandemic related health or family concern, the job will be offered to the next employee in line, but their position and future recall rights will not be forfeited. If an employer declines to recall an employee on the grounds of lack of qualifications, the employer must provide the employee with written notice identifying the new employee hired in the laid off employee’s place, the reasons for not recalling the laid off employee, and all the demographics information for the new employee compared to the laid off employee. This provision is clearly designed to prevent discrimination.
The bill also includes some other protections that private sector employees, who are not unionized, do not normally enjoy. First, this bill provides “just cause” protections for recalled employees for the first thirty days. This means that recalled employees actually have to do something wrong before they can be fired during the first thirty days of recall employment. Second, an employer cannot terminate, refuse to rehire, or take any other adverse actions against an employee for enforcing his or her rights under this bill. Third, any employer that takes adverse actions against a laid off employee will provide that employee with a detailed written statement of the reasons for the adverse action. This statement shall not only contain the reasons for the adverse action, but also the contain all facts known to the employer that contradict the reason for the adverse employment action. Lastly, this bill creates a new cause of action; meaning, a laid off employee who feels they were not treated fairly under this bill will be able to file a lawsuit in State Court. If the laid off employee prevails, the court may enjoin the employer from further violations, order reinstatement or rehire, and award backpay and other equitable relief. If the court finds the employer acted with malice or reckless indifference, compensatory and punitive damages can be awarded. Finally, if the court finds the employer violated section (h), meaning the employer took adverse action against an employee for enforcing his or rights afforded by the bill, the court can award treble (triple) damages.
Last but not least, this bill applies to all Connecticut workers laid off between March 10, 2020, and May 1, 2021, regardless of their union status. However, unionized workers protected by a collective bargaining agreement that offers more protections or has similar recall language can defer to the union contract, but the protections provided in this bill still apply.
This bill not only provides guarantees for laid off workers as the economy opens up, but it also provides extensive protections. Many of these protections do not exists anywhere else in private sector employment, including union contracts. With that said, SB No. 658 is not yet law. It can become a law in one of two ways. First, the Governor can sign the bill. Second, the Governor can do nothing for fifteen days, after which the bill becomes law. However, the Governor may veto the bill, effectively blocking it from becoming law. I do not see that happening. Hopefully, this bill will be used as a roadmap for future employee protections.
If you are a laid off worker and are concerned about recall or if your job has been filled with another employee, give us a call. We will evaluate your claim in light of this bill once it becomes law.