Most of us have finished resetting our clocks to switch off daylight saving time. For businesses this year, that is not the only thing that may need to be reset.
Companies and employers operating within our state should review what changes have been made to the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (“CFEPA”). There may be a need for resetting operating procedures and making some adjustments to company employee handbooks.
CFEPA is Connecticut’s anti-discrimination statute, outlawing employment discrimination based on particular protected characteristics, including, but not limited to, race, gender, sexual orientation, perceived and actual disabilities, marital status, and religious belief. It is a substantial and ever-changing body of law.
Three significant changes are now in effect that employers must be aware of.
First, Connecticut added a new protected class, domestic violence victims. Under the 2022 CFEPA amendments, an employer cannot change the terms and conditions of employment based on an employee’s status as a domestic violence victim. An employer also cannot “deny an employee a reasonable leave of absence in order to” seek medical help for injuries caused by domestic violence, obtain services from a rape crisis center, take actions to prevent further incidents of domestic violence such as relocating and obtaining legal services due to domestic violence. However, an employer can request the employee provide a police report or other documentation of the domestic violence within a reasonable time after an absence.
Side effects of this change include a new requirement that the company keep the employee’s status as a victim confidential. Failure to do so can result in an employer’s liability. Furthermore, if the employee suffers a physical or mental disability resulting from either a single or series of domestic violence incidents, the employer shall treat them in the same manner as any other disabled employee. This means that such an employee has additional protections, such as requesting a reasonable accommodation due to the resulting disability.
Those accommodations might include changes in the employee’s work schedule or being placed on light duty, for example.
The second major change now in effect is that CFEPA provisions have been extended to cover all employers. Under the old law, CFEPA just applied to employers with three or more employees. However, CFEPA coverage now even includes employers with a single employee. This is a sharp departure from most federal anti-discrimination statutes, which generally apply to employers with 15 or more employees dependent on the provisions.
The practical effect is that all Connecticut employers must know CFEPA’s requirements. For instance, all Connecticut employees must undergo sexual harassment training. Also, every Connecticut employer will face liability for discrimination based on any of CFEPA’s protected classes, including, as mentioned, race, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, and now status as a domestic violence victim.
The last significant change expands the definition of who actually is as an employee. Employees now include “any elected or appointed official of a municipality, board, commission, counsel or other governmental body.” Under the earlier wording of the law, individuals who donated their time to municipal boards and commissions or were unpaid elected officials had no protections under CFEPA. This has changed.
The recent changes to CFEPA are part of a pattern on Connecticut’s part in progressively expanding employee rights. From time to time, these changes are made at the employer’s expense in terms of increasing the employer’s potential liability as well as possible loss of company time and resources. Employers should be cognizant of these changes and adjust accordingly.
Reese Mitchell is a lawyer at Stratford-based Mitchell & Sheahan, P.C. He is involved in handling all types of employment matters, including through all stages of the litigation process. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 203-873-0240.