File photo of Attorney General William Tong

The Judiciary Committee debated a bill Friday that seeks to limit what employers can say to employees in the workplace. The issue is not a new one and only one state has passed similar legislation, but the bill is backed by the unions and Attorney General William Tong. 

“Nobody has a right to force workers to sit down and listen to speech about religious or political issues which they object,” Tong said Friday. “No employer has the right to threaten, intimidate or bully their workers.” 

a green button that says support and red button that says oppose

Former Attorney General George Jepsen tossed cold water on the so-called captive audience bill in 2011 following an 11-hour debate in the House saying it conflicted with federal labor law. 

Ed Hawthorne, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, said this year’s version is different because it’s not an outright ban on these meetings. He said that’s what Jepsen objected to years ago. 

He said the bill just gives the employee the right to get up and leave these meetings. 

“These are mandatory, closed-door meetings during work hours where workers are often threatened and harassed about joining a union,” Hawthorne  said. “One nurse was even put in the hospital supply closet with managers back to the door.” 

Hawthorne said the bill will give the employee the right to not attend meetings that are about an employer’s politics, union organizing or religion. 

“This legislation will protect a worker’s constitutional rights to freedom of speech and conscience,” Hawthorne said. 

He said it doesn’t prevent employers from talking to employees about any issue pertaining to their work. 

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association opposes the legislation. 

“The practical impact of this bill is that employers will never be able to hold a meeting and have honest conversations with employees without the risk of people walking out,” John Blair, associate counsel at CBIA, said. “For instance, an employer could not update employees regarding the law and regulations impacting their jobs, wages, benefits, FMLA, and corporate and community charitable giving and social activities.”

He said the language in the bill mirrors bills from previous years all of which failed because “of legal opinions that they are preempted by federal law from governing workplace communications. Those opinions noted that the National Labor Relations Act has exclusive authority over workplace interactions and therefore preempted by federal law.”