Connecticut Legislature Passes Bill Prohibiting “Captive Audience” Meetings

On Friday, April 29, 2022, the Connecticut House of Representatives passed a bill that would prohibit employers in the state from holding mandatory employee meetings addressing unionization. Senate Bill 163, which now moves to Governor Ned Lamont’s office for his expected signature, prohibits employers from holding so-called “captive audience” meetings to address matters of religion or politics by allowing employees to not attend those meetings without fear of penalization from their employer.

Connecticut’s bill comes as the National Labor Relations Board’s (“Board”) General Counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, has released a memo urging the Board to hold that captive audience meetings are unlawful and that prohibiting such meetings is “necessary to ensure full protection of employees’ statutory labor rights.” Connecticut joins Oregon as the only states to pass legislation precluding employers from holding mandatory meetings to discuss employee unionization. However, questions remain about the Connecticut bill and whether it is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act as a prior version of the bill was struck down by Connecticut’s then-Attorney General.

The bill’s detractors assert that not only is the bill preempted by federal law, but it will cause significant economic damage to the state employers and further push business out of and away from Connecticut. Chris DiPentima, president of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association stated: “At a time when struggling small businesses desperately need support, the General Assembly decided to make it even more difficult to do business in Connecticut and continues to weaken the employer-employee relationship.” 

Although the Board has long protected the employer’s right to communicate their views on unionization to employees, employers must be cognizant of these new attempts to restrict or preclude mandatory employee meetings. The additional scrutiny on and potential prohibition of these meetings will force employers to get creative when seeking to convey their message and prospective to employees. Voluntary meetings and other avenues of communications beyond group meetings will enable employers to still reach their employees without facing potential unfair labor practice charges or being accused of violating state law.

Stay tuned to Stevens & Lee’s Labor and Employment Law Center for further updates as developments impacting employee rights and employer obligations continue to develop under the NLRA and other federal, state and local traditional labor laws. If you have any questions about how this, or any other, labor and employment law development may affect your business, please contact Daniel J. Sobol at daniel.sobol@stevenslee.com, Michael G. Greenfield at michael.greenfield@stevenslee.com, or the Stevens & Lee attorney with whom you regularly work.

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