OLR Bill Analysis
AN ACT CONCERNING CAPTIVE AUDIENCE MEETINGS.
This bill prohibits employers from requiring employees to attend meetings primarily about the employer's position on religious or political matters. The bill defines political matters as including political party affiliation or the decision to join or not join any lawful political, social, or community group or activity, or a labor organization. A labor organization is any organization that exists, wholly or partly for the purpose of collective bargaining or dealing with employers about grievances, employment terms or conditions, or mutual aid or protection connected with employment.
The bill covers all private-sector employers and the state and its political subdivisions. It defines an employee as anyone working for an employer.
It also provides protection for employees who make a good-faith report of a violation of the bill.
An aggrieved employee may enforce the bill's provisions through a Superior Court civil action brought within 90 days of the alleged violation. The court may award a prevailing employee all appropriate relief, including rehiring or reinstatement, and it must award a prevailing employee triple damages and reasonable attorney's fees and costs.
EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2011
BAN ON FORCED MEETINGS
The bill bans an employer, or its agent, representative, or designee, from requiring that employees attend employer-sponsored meetings with the employer or its agent, representative, or designee for the primary purpose of communicating the employer's opinion on religious or political matters. (Such forced meetings are generally referred to as “captive audience” meetings. )
The bill provides exceptions when the employer or its agent must by law communicate about religious or political matters, but only to the extent of the legal requirement. It also exempts casual conversations between employees, and between employees and employers' agents, provided participation in the conversations is not required and they occur in the normal course of the employee's duties.
It also provides exceptions for three types of employers:
1. a religious organization may require its employees to attend a meeting or participate in communications with the employer or its agents to communicate the employer's religious beliefs, practices, or tenets;
2. a political organization may require its employees to attend a meeting or participate in communications with the employer or its agents to communicate the employer's political tenets or purposes; and
3. a higher education institution or its agent may meet with or participate in communications with its employees about political or religious matters that are part of the institution's regular coursework, symposia, or academic programs.
The bill bans employers or their agents, representatives, or designees from discharging, disciplining, or otherwise penalizing an employee or threatening to do so because the employee, or a person acting on the employee's behalf, makes a good faith report, verbally or in writing, of a violation or suspected violation of the bill. This protection does not apply if the employee knows the report is false.
The bill allows any employee who has been discharged, disciplined, or otherwise penalized to seek enforcement of the bill through a Superior Court civil action brought within 90 days of the alleged violation. The action must be brought in the judicial district where the violation is alleged to have taken place or where the employer has its principal office.
The court may award an employee all appropriate relief, including rehiring or reinstatement to his or her former position, back pay, and reestablishment of any employee benefits to which he or she would otherwise have been eligible but for the violation. The court must award a prevailing employee triple monetary damages and reasonable attorney's fees and costs.
The bill does not (1) limit an employee's right to a common law cause of action for wrongful termination or (2) impair rights under a collective bargaining agreement.
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) guarantees an employer's right to express an opinion about unionization as long as it does not also threaten reprisal or promise a benefit to coerce employees.
The NLRA governs private-sector union organizing and collective bargaining rights and delineates unfair labor practices. The NLRA created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to administer the law and rule on specific cases alleging unfair labor practices.
Captive Audience Meetings
The NLRB allows captive audience meetings more than 24 hours before a union election as long as the employer does not commit an unfair labor practice (such as threatening reprisal for supporting a union). The NLRB may order a new election if it finds the employer (or a union) held a captive audience meeting of employees within 24 hours of a union election.
Labor and Public Employees Committee