Bill Banning Captive Audience Meetings Passes Legislature, Heads to Governor for Signing
Legislation prohibiting Connecticut employers from penalizing employees who refuse to attend “captive audience meetings” intended to discourage workers from organizing received final approval and is heading to the Governor’s desk.
SB-163 prohibits employers from disciplining or discharging an employee or threatening to do so because the employee refused to attend mandatory employer-sponsored meetings, listen to speech, or view communications primarily intended to convey the employer’s opinion about political or religious matters.
Under the bill, “political matters” relate to “(1) elections for political office, (2) political parties, (3) proposals to change legislation or regulation, and (4) decisions to join or support a political party or…labor organization.”
“Religious matters” relate to “(1) religious affiliation and practice and (2) decisions to join or support a religious organization or association.”
The bill also expands current law prohibiting employers from penalizing employees for exercising their First Amendment right of free speech under the U.S. Constitution or Connecticut Constitution. The bill expands the law to also prohibit employers from threatening to penalize employees for exercising these rights. By law, and unchanged by the bill, an employee may exercise these rights as long as his or her activity does not substantially or materially interfere with the bona fide job performance or the working relationship between the employer and employee.
The bill does not prohibit mandatory meetings to communicate information required by law or that the employees need to perform their jobs. It also exempts certain religious organizations’ speech on religious matters made to their own employees.
The bill also changes the enforcement provisions that apply to the current law on employees exercising the constitutional right of free speech and the bill’s prohibition on penalizing employees for refusing to attend captive audience meetings. It does so primarily by limiting potential damages for employees claiming a violation of the law to lost wages or compensation, with no punitive damages.
Commenting on the law, Attorney Emily Noonan stated, “The success of unions at Starbucks and Amazon are a bellwether of increasing unionization. When a union appears on the scene, it has been a common practice for employers to convene meetings with their workforce to explain why they think a union would be unnecessary. This law will dramatically weaken that practice.”
The Governor is expected to sign the legislation. Once signed, it will take effect July 1, 2022.
Editor’s Note - Robert Noonan & Associates will conduct its Annual Legislative Update (webinar), which will discuss laws affecting employers that have been passed this session. The date will be announced in the near future with an advance notice to clients of the firm.