OLR Bill Analysis

SB 929

AN ACT EXTENDING WHISTLE-BLOWER PROTECTIONS TO CERTAIN EMPLOYEES.

SUMMARY

Existing law prohibits employers from discharging, disciplining, or otherwise penalizing an employee for certain whistleblowing activities, including reporting suspected illegal conduct to a public body (see BACKGROUND).

This bill additionally prohibits employers from taking such actions against an employee for objecting or refusing to participate in an activity that the employee reasonably believes is illegal. Specifically, it applies to such beliefs about violations or suspected violations of state or federal laws or regulations, municipal ordinances or regulations, or court orders.

As under the existing prohibition, employees may sue the employer for violating the bill after exhausting administrative remedies. The bill also (1) extends the time an employee has to file such a lawsuit and (2) adds to the possible remedies available to employees, including punitive damages in certain circumstances.

As under existing law, the bill does not diminish or impair anyone's rights under a collective bargaining agreement.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2017

LAWSUITS CHALLENGING EMPLOYER RETALIATION

Under current law, an employee seeking to sue under this law must file the case within 90 days of the violation or final administrative decision, whichever is later. The bill extends this to 180 days.

Existing law allows the court to (1) order the employer to reinstate the employee, pay back wages, and reestablish benefits and (2) award the prevailing party costs and reasonable attorney's fees. The bill also allows the court to order:

1. compensatory damages;

2. the removal of any discipline or penalty imposed on the employee;

3. future economic damages due to a wage reduction if reinstatement of the employee's previous job is not feasible or practicable; and

4. punitive damages (this is allowed only if the employer's conduct was a willful or intentional violation of the employee's rights).

Under existing law and the bill, employers may dismiss or discipline employees found to have knowingly made a false report of illegal conduct.

BACKGROUND

Prohibition on Retaliation for Whistleblowing

Under existing law, employers are prohibited from discharging, disciplining, or otherwise penalizing an employee because:

1. the employee (or someone acting on his or her behalf) reports to a public body a violation or suspected violation of federal or state law or regulation or a municipal ordinance or regulation;

2. a public body requests the employee to participate in one of its investigations, hearings, or inquiries, or a court action;

3. the employee reports suspected child abuse or neglect; or

4. for municipal employees, the employee (or someone acting on his or her behalf) reports to a public body the employer's unethical practices, mismanagement, or abuse of authority (CGS 31-51m).

Related Laws

Other laws also provide protections against retaliation for:

1. employees of state agencies, quasi-public agencies, or large state contractors who report violations of laws to the Auditors of Public Accounts (CGS 4-61dd) and

2. private and public sector employees who exercise their First Amendment rights in a way that does not substantially or materially interfere with job performance or the employer-employee relationship (CGS 31-51q).

COMMITTEE ACTION

Judiciary Committee

Joint Favorable

Yea

26

Nay

14

(04/03/2017)