June 11, 1998 98-R-0758
FROM: Laura Jordan, Research Attorney
RE: Title 31 Overview You asked for an overview of the state labor laws in Title 31 of the Connecticut General Statutes.
This report generally outlines Title 31's chapters. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like more information on a particular issue.
DEPARTMENT OF LABOR GENERAL PROVISIONS
The Department of Labor (DOL) is headed by a commissioner appointed by the governor. The statutes describe the commissioner's powers. They establish several divisions within the department including the Employment and Training Commission, the Employment Security Division, and the Regional Workforce Development Boards.
UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION ACT
Unemployment compensation is a shared federal-state program. It is administered under state law, which prescribes the tax structure, qualifying requirements, benefit levels, and disqualification provisions. State laws must conform to federal requirements in many, but not all, major areas. If a state law does not conform, state employers are not able to claim credit against federal unemployment compensation taxes for state unemployment compensation taxes they pay.
To be eligible for unemployment compensation, an unemployed person must meet both monetary and non-monetary criteria. Unless the employee has earned wages equal to a certain multiple of his unemployment benefit (the multiples vary depending on the situation), he is not eligible to collect. And, in general, if he quit his job voluntarily or was fired for his own deliberate, employment-related misconduct, he cannot collect.
Connecticut allows unemployment compensation recipients to collect benefits for up to 26 weeks in a benefit year. (The benefit year is the 52-week period beginning with the first week a person receives benefits.)
EMPLOYMENT REGULATION AND WAGES
The chapters concerning employment regulation and wages establish rules concerning (1) wages, safety conditions, and employee privacy and (2) the prevailing wage for state financed or assisted construction.
Employee Protection Provisions
Wage and Hour Laws. The law sets a minimum wage and defines which employers are obligated to pay this wage. It places hour and wage record requirements on employers. Employers must keep true and accurate records of their employees' hours and wages (except for executive, administrative, and professional employees) for three years at the employer's principal place of business. The law gives DOL investigatory and enforcement powers for these provisions.
Employment of Minors, Seniors, and Handicapped Individuals. The law restricts the hours that minors, seniors, and handicapped individuals can work in certain fields and prohibits minors from working in hazardous jobs.
Health Risks. The law requires employers to notify employees of carcinogens and toxic substances they use or produce in their manufacturing process or for experimentation, treatment, or research. It requires employers to establish enough non-smoking work areas to accommodate nonsmokers who request such areas. (The requirement applies to any enclosed business facility where 50 or more employees work.)
Whistleblower Protection. The law prohibits employers from taking any adverse personnel action against an employee because he reports, directly or through a third party, an employer's illegal action, unethical practices, mismanagement, or abuse of authority to a governmental agency.
Apprenticeship Council. The law establishes the State Apprenticeship Council to, among other things, adopt standards for apprenticeship programs, formulate policies concerning programs, and advise the labor commissioner on work-training standards for apprentices.
Privacy Provisions. Title 31 contains some provisions aimed at protecting employee privacy. For example, it prohibits employers from electronically monitoring employees in lounges, restrooms, and locker rooms. It limits who can have access to the portion of a job application form containing information about the applicant's arrest record. It also restricts the situations in which an employer may order a prospective, current, or former employee to take a urinalysis drug test and protects the confidentiality of the test results.
Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In general, the FMLA requires covered employers to allow employees to take a leave of absence (up to 16 weeks in two years) if they, their spouse, child, parent, or parent-in-law experience a serious illness or for the birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child. Most of the state's FMLA (which applies to private-sector employers with 75 or more employees) is preempted by the federal FMLA, except for those provisions that are more favorable to the employee.
Prevailing Wage Provisions
Title 31 contains prevailing wage rules for state-funded or assisted and municipal construction projects. DOL's Public Contract Compliance Unit handles oversight of these provisions. The law applies to each contract for the construction, remodeling, refinishing, refurbishing, rehabilitation, alteration or repair of any public works project by the state or its agents, or by any state political subdivision. Monetary thresholds must be met before the law is applicable. The prevailing wage law applies where the total cost of all work to be performed by all contractors and subcontractors in connection with new construction of a public works project is $400,000 or more. It applies in connection with remodeling, refinishing, refurbishing, rehabilitation, alteration or repair of any public works project over $100,000. Contractors must be paid the prevailing rate, which is the minimum rate that is customary or prevailing for the same work in the same trade or occupation in the town in which the public works project is being constructed.
OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ACT
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) governs workplace safety in the private sector. But states may enact their own OSHA laws governing public-sector employers and employees. Connecticut's OSHA law closely mirrors the federal law; it applies equal or stricter standards. It places a duty on all covered employers to provide a safe workplace for the employees and is enforced by a system of citations and fines.
Title 31 establishes a Division of Occupational Safety and Health within DOL. The division inspects and investigates public employee workplace conditions. The division also provides consultations to private and public employers so they can recognize and control workplace hazards and prevent injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.
The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission hears and rules on appeals of citations, notifications, and penalties issued by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health inspectors.
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH CLINICS
Title 31 requires the labor commissioner to (1) encourage development and operation of public or private nonprofit clinics that meet certain conditions and are licensed by the state to diagnose, treat, and prevent occupational diseases (“occupational health clinics”); and (2) fund certain reporting activities by approved medical facilities offering corporate medicine and employee wellness programs that include certain things (“auxiliary occupational health clinics”). The law also allows the occupational health clinic grants to fund other activities involving evaluation, treatment, and prevention of occupational diseases.
The law authorizes the labor commissioner, either on his own or when notified by a clinic or auxiliary clinic, to inaugurate site-specific or industry-wide studies or other surveillance activities in response to a health emergency, suggested disease cluster, or imminent hazard.
It designates the Workers' Compensation Commission's Statistical Division as the central entity for receiving and coordinating occupational disease data from clinics, auxiliary clinics, data bases, and other medical sources. It requires the division and the rest of the commission to educate unions, employers, and employees in how to use the occupational disease surveillance system. It also requires the Statistical Division to publish a summary of the occupational disease data collected at least once a year.
WORKERS' COMPENSATION ACT
Workers' compensation is governed not just by statute but also by case law and administrative regulations and guidelines. The Connecticut Workers' Compensation Act was passed in 1913. It requires employers to compensate their employees who suffer work-related injuries or occupational diseases, regardless of who is at fault. In return for receiving compensation on a no-fault basis, employees are prohibited (except in very limited circumstances) from suing their employers or fellow employees for damages arising from work-related injuries or accidents. Workers have one year from the date of injury and three years from the date of first manifestation of an occupational disease to file a claim for workers' compensation.
Workers' compensation benefits and the administration of the workers' compensation system were extensively revised in 1991 (PA 91-339) and in 1993 (PA 93-228).
Eligibility and Covered Injuries
Employee. In order to receive workers' compensation benefits and injured claimant must be part of an employer-employee relationship and must be a covered employee. The law defines an employee as anyone who works under any contract of service or apprenticeship with an employer. The law explicitly includes certain people, such as volunteer firefighters and members of the General Assembly. It also allows sole proprietors and business partners to be covered voluntarily.
The workers' compensation law does not cover independent contractors (not defined in law but determined by workers' compensation commissioners on a case-by-case basis); outworkers (those to whom materials are given and who take them away for processing on premises outside the management's control); casual workers who are temporarily employed for purposes other than the employer's trade or business; members of the employer's family who live in his house if the employer's workers' compensation insurance premium excludes the family member; domestic service workers regularly employed in private homes less than 26 hours per week; corporate officers who choose to be excluded; and students enrolled in supervised, community-based, career education programs approved by the State Board of Education. Certain other employees are not covered by the state law because they are covered instead by various federal laws.
Employers. Under the workers' compensation law, an “employer” is any person, company, or voluntary association that habitually and customarily uses the services of one or more employees for pay. The state, towns, and “any public corporation” are also employers.
Covered Injuries. An employee is entitled to compensation for any personal injury that “arises out of and in the course of his employment.” The meaning of this phrase has been interpreted and reinterpreted endlessly in 80 years of cases and is now deemed to cover a wide range of situations and injuries including some psychological or emotional injuries. In general, the law covers injuries that occur within the period of employment, at a place where the employee may reasonably be, and while the employee is reasonably fulfilling his employment duties or doing something incidental to his employment.
Employees are not entitled to compensation for personal injuries caused by their own willful and serious misconduct or by their own intoxication.
Workers' compensation benefits fall into two categories: (1) payments for medical expenses and treatment of a work-related injury or disease, and (2) benefits that compensate an injured employee for lost earnings and for any permanent disability. The latter benefits are called wage-loss and indemnity benefits.
The level and duration of wage-loss and indemnity benefits varies depending on the degree of disability (total or partial) and whether the disability is temporary or permanent. Total disability benefits are paid for as long as the total disability lasts. Certain claimants also receive annual cost of living adjustments.
Partial disability benefits vary according to which body part is affected and the degree of permanent disability. Benefits are paid for a set number of weeks depending on the specific body part that is disabled. The schedule of benefits is specified in the workers' compensation law. In certain cases, workers with partial disabilities whose earning power is reduced may receive a temporary benefit tied to the wage differential between the pre- and post-injury jobs.
A claimant's compensation rate is, in most cases, based on his average weekly earnings for the 52 weeks immediately before the injury or illness. Special rules apply when the claimant did not work or did not work steadily in the 52 weeks before being hurt. Benefits are paid weekly and are subject to statutory maximums and minimums.
The workers' compensation law requires employers to furnish all necessary medical and rehabilitative services to an injured employee. This duty encompasses not only an attending physician but also whatever medical treatment and diagnostic procedures the physician deems reasonable or necessary. Among the medical procedures and practitioners that can be covered are nurses, dentists, podiatrists, psychiatrists, osteopaths, naturopaths, chiropractors, masseuses, medicine, x-rays, and treatment by prayer or spiritual means. Employers are also required to provide prosthetic devices and artificial aids for work-related injuries. Employers may set up approved managed care plans to deliver treatment for work-related injuries.
Employees must cooperate in their own treatment and accept treatment. An employee receiving compensation is also required to submit to an examination by a physician or practitioner chosen by the employer or the commissioner, whenever the employer or the workers' compensation commissioner reasonably requests it. Refusal leads to suspension of benefits.
Benefits are paid by employers, who are required by law to insure against their workers' compensation liability. Employers may either self-insure or buy workers' compensation coverage from insurance carriers. Most Connecticut employers buy workers' compensation insurance but the state, some municipalities, and many large employers self-insure. Before an employer is permitted to self-insure, it must provide a certificate of solvency to the Workers' Compensation Commission chairman proving that it is able to pay any claims.
Besides employers, the other major payer of workers' compensation benefits is the state-administered Second Injury Fund. The fund, which is financed by assessments on self-insured employers and workers' compensation insurers, pays workers' compensation benefits, under certain conditions, to previously disabled employees, employees whose employers are not insured, and in various special circumstances.
Title 31 contains a few basic provisions concerning labor organizations. For example, it prevents employers from prohibiting employees from participating in unions. It requires labor organizations to file an annual report with DOL and to make it available for all of its members. It also sets rules about employer contributions to employee welfare funds (such as a medical benefit fund). Many of the state laws in this area are pre-empted by the federal National Labor Relations Act insofar as they relate to private-sector workers and employers.
State Board of Mediation and Arbitration (SBMA)
Title 31 establishes the SBMA, which is a board appointed by the governor representing labor, management, and the public. It provides mediation, conciliation, and arbitration services in employer-employee labor disputes. One of its major activities is to decide grievances and disputes that arise out of the administration of collective bargaining agreements. Such grievances are submitted to the board in accordance with grievance procedures set out in collective bargaining agreements. Grievance procedures often call for arbitration as the final step in the grievance process. The board's services are available to, and are used by, both private and public-sector employers and unions. The board does not engage in “interest” arbitration, meaning it does not resolve impasses in collective bargaining negotiations.
In both the public and private sector, the board's rulings are based on the language of the particular collective bargaining agreement that covers the employees whose unions are bringing grievances to the board.
LABOR RELATIONS ACT
Private sector employees are generally covered by the National and State Labor Relations Acts (NLRA and SLRA), both of which guarantee the right to form and join labor unions and to bargain collectively with employers. The SLRA and the NLRA specifically exclude certain employers (and by extension, their employees) from their coverage. Among the employers excluded from both acts are states and their political or civil subdivision.
Title 31 sets basic rules for when courts can issue restraining orders or temporary or permanent injunctions in labor disputes. It also establishes miscellaneous rules concerning picketing of homes, soliciting replacement employees during strikes, and labor disputes in health care institutions. Many of these laws are pre-empted by the NLRA for most employers.
PRIVATE EMPLOYMENT AND INFORMATION AGENCIES
The law requires employment agencies to obtain operating licenses from DOL. It sets licensing procedures and certain operating rules, such as when the agency can collect client fees.
The law grants private-sector employees the right to inspect, copy, and correct information in their personnel files and medical records, as defined in law, and to keep such information from being disclosed to third parties without their authorization unless the information is subpoenaed. It sets inspection procedures. The law allows disclosure without an employee's authorization of any information in his personnel file or medical record that does not identify him.
EMPLOYMENT OF THE HANDICAPPED
The law requires the DOL commissioner to operate a program that encourages employers to hire handicapped individuals.
FULL EMPLOYMENT ACT
Title 31 sets a general policy that state government foster an economy that produces sufficient employment opportunities. It requires the governor to annually report to the General Assembly on the state of the economy.
JOB INNOVATION AND DEVELOPMENT
The law requires the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) to file an annual report with the governor. The report must, among other things, identify the job skills Connecticut businesses need from the workforce, recommend ways to improve vocational-technical programs, and encourage the development of programs that help underemployed and unemployed individuals.