Employers Take Note: Important CT Law Changes

Two bills were recently signed into law by Governor Ned Lamont that impact Connecticut employers.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The Cannabis Act essentially legalizes the recreational use of marijuana in Connecticut. Included in the legislation are certain restrictions on employers and protections for employees. Companies must refine their drug policies over the next year to comply.
  • The Salary Act requires employers to disclose to job applicants and employees the salary ranges for positions. Connecticut employers need to be cognizant of these laws and how they impact their current human resource practices.

Employers Can Still Nip Legalized Marijuana Use in the Bud

The Cannabis Act, effective July 1, 2021, legalizes the recreational use of marijuana and permits anyone over the age of 21 to possess up to one-and-a-half ounces of marijuana. Additionally, the Cannabis Act also imposes certain restrictions on employers and protections for employees. Employers have until July 1, 2022 to review and refine their drug policies and practices to comply with the changes.[1] The new law does not change or impact the requirements of Connecticut’s Medical Marijuana law.

Here are key provisions for employers:

  • Employers may maintain a drug-free workplace and implement policies prohibiting use, possession, or other consumption of marijuana by an employee, subject to certain exceptions. Policies prohibiting cannabis use must be provided to employees in writing (either electronically or physically) before their implementation. Employers must make policies available to prospective employees at the time an offer or conditional offer is made.
  • Employers’ policies may require drug testing or fitness for duty evaluations for employees and prospective employees. Pursuant to implemented policies, employers may: subject employees to drug testing, take action against employees for positive drug tests, and/or refuse or retract a conditional job offer from a prospective employee based on a positive drug test. However, this may not be done if on the basis of a positive result solely for TCH, 11-nor-9-carboxy-delta-9-taterhydracannabinol, unless:
    • Failing to do so would put the employer in violation of a federal contract or cause it to lose federal funding.
    • An employer reasonably suspects an employee’s usage of cannabis while engaged in the performance of the employee’s work responsibilities.
    • An employee manifests specific, articulable symptoms of drug impairment while working that decrease or lessen the employee’s performance of the duties or tasks of the employee’s job position.
  • Employers may not terminate or take adverse action against an employee or prospective employee for cannabis use or lack of use before the individual was employed by the company. However, there is a list of exceptions to this rule that includes:
    • If failure would render an employer in violation of a federal contract or cause the employer to lose federal funding;
    • If an employees’ primary activity is: mining, utilities, construction, transportation or delivery, educational services, health care or social services, justice and public order, national security and international affairs
    • If an employee is employed in one of the following positions: firefighter; emergency medical technician; police officer or peace officer; operating a motor vehicle (where state of federal law requires employee to submit a screening test); position requiring certification or completion of a course in construction safety and health approved by OSHA; position requiring a federal Department of Defense or Department of Emergency national security clearance; position funded in whole or in part by a federal grant; position requiring supervision or care of children, medical patients or vulnerable persons; positions for which the prohibition is in conflict with a collective bargaining agreement or employment contract; positions for which the prohibition is inconsistent or otherwise in conflict with federal law; positions with the potential to adversely impact the health or safety of employees or members of the public in the determination of the employer; and positions at nonprofit organizations which the primary purpose is to discourage use of cannabis products or any other drug use by the general public
  • Employers are not required to make accommodations for an employee or allow an employee to perform their work duties while using, possessing, or under the influence of cannabis. Nothing in the Act limits an employer from taking adverse or other action upon (a) reasonable suspicion of an employee’s usage of cannabis while engaged in the performance of the employee’s work responsibilities at the workplace or on call, or (b) determine that the employee manifests specific, articulable symptoms of drug impairment while working at the workplace or on call that decreases or lessens performance of the duties or tasks of the position.
  • If employers violate certain provisions in the bill, employees may bring a civil action for judicial enforcement.

“Comparable Work” Becomes New Salary Bar

The Salary Act requires employers to inform employees and applicants about salary ranges for positions. The Salary Act expands prohibitions of gender-based pay discrimination and requires equal pay for “comparable” work as opposed to “equal” work. The Salary Act goes into effect October 1, 2021.

The law modifies the prohibition against sex-based compensation. The amendment changes the law from not allowing employers to pay someone of the opposite sex less for equal work, to not allowing an employer to pay someone of the opposite sex less for comparable work. Determining whether work is comparable will require a review of various factors including, a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility.

This law is one of the first of its kind. Employers should consider adopting policies and practices now that respond to the law, including the development of salary ranges based on objective criteria.

The Salary Act also prohibits employers from:

  • Failing or refusing to provide job applicants with wage ranges for the position to which he or she is applying, upon (a) the applicant’s request, or (b) prior to or at the time the applicant is made an offer of compensation; or
  • Failing or refusing to provide employees the wage range for the employee’s position upon (a) the hiring of the employee, (b) a change in the employee’s position with the employer, or (c) the employee’s first request for a wage range.

Employees or prospective employees may bring action in court to redress any violation of these requirements within two years of the violation. A successful claimant can obtain compensatory damages, attorney’s fees, costs, and even punitive damages.

The law defines “wage range” as: [T]he range of wages an employer anticipates relying on when setting wages for a position.” This may include reference to a pay scale, previously determined range of wages for the position, actual range of wages for those employees currently holding comparable positions, or the employer’s budgeted amount for the position.

Connecticut employers should review these new laws and ensure their policies and practices are in compliance by the time the laws go into effect. If you have questions about compliance or need assistance updating your policies and practices, contact a Hinckley Allen Labor & Employment attorney.

[1] The bill’s employer provisions are primarily located in sections 97-101.

For additional information, please contact one of the authors listed above, or any member of our Labor & Employment Law Practice Group.

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