Sen. John Kissel debates the captive audience bill Credit: Hugh McQuaid photo / CTNewsJunkie

The state Senate debated and passed a bill Thursday that outlines what employers can and can’t tell their employees in the workplace. 

Dubbed the “captive audience” bill, the legislation which passed the Senate 23-11, has been a topic of discussion for years at the state Capitol. It received bipartisan support this year despite opposition from the business industry. 

“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 in written testimony. “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.”

Lawmakers in favor of the proposal said that’s not the case. 

Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said nothing interferes with providing written communication at the work station or communicating through traditional mail or email is still allowable. He said requesting a one-on-one meeting with the employee is still available under the bill. 

“We are overwhelmed by communication so why the focus on this one?” Looney said. 

He said what’s not allowed is intimidation by the employer of the employee who is trying to organize a labor union. He said that’s what the bill seeks to eliminate. 

“It’s all about losing an opportunity for coercion, intimidation, and retaliation,” Looney said.

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 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.

Some Republicans who opposed the measure said it would hurt Connecticut’s economy because it’s “anti-business.”

“It will discourage employers from coming here or expanding the state,” Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said. “I believe it undermines industry in a very significant way.”

The bill now goes to the House. If they pass it and the governor signs it, Connecticut would be the second state in the nation to pass legislation protecting workers from being forced to attend these meetings.