Connecticut Bans "Captive Audience" Meetings
Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor
May 24, 2022
Employers in Connecticut can no longer compel employees to attend mandatory meetings held to dissuade employees from joining a union.
Effective July 1, An Act Protecting Employee Freedom of Speech and Conscience prohibits employers from disciplining, discharging or threatening to discharge or discipline an employee for refusing to attend a meeting or listen to a speech whose primary purpose is to convey the employer's opinions concerning political or religious matters. "Political matters" is defined to include the decision to join or support a labor organization.
When an employer is faced with an union organizing campaign, a key tool to counter the effort is the use of "captive audience" meetings - meetings employees are required to attend where the employer states its position about why employees should vote "no" on unionization. Such meetings are permitted by federal law, but will now be unlawful in Connecticut, which joins Oregon as the only other state to bar such meetings.
The restrictions do not prohibit:
- Communicating information that the employer is legally required to communicate;
- Communicating information that is necessary for employees to perform their job duties;
- Casual conversations between employees or between an employee an employer or employer's representative, provided such conversations are not required; or
- A requirement that is limited to supervisory and managerial employees.
An employer that violates the law can be liable for the full amount of an employee's gross loss of wages or compensation, reasonable attorney's fees and costs.
Business organizations lobbied against the bill, claiming the law is hostile to employers and likely preempted by the National Labor Relations Act.
The president of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA), Chris DiPentima, also noted that the law could prevent employers from engaging in necessary and required workplace matters if an employee can leave a meeting whenever they subjectively felt "political matters" were being discussed.
"Employees could refuse to attend workplace meetings because they are offensive to one's personal political or religious views," DiPentima wrote in a letter to Gov. Ned Lamont urging him to veto the bill. "This could impact discussions and training about diversity, equity and inclusion, LGBTQ issues, vaccination policy, or maintaining workplace safety," DiPentima added, noting that these were issues that the state had urged employers to discuss with their employees.