On May 17, 2022, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signed into law the so-called “captive audience” bill (Senate Bill 163), which prohibits employers from requiring their employees to (a) attend employer-sponsored meetings that have a primary purpose of communicating the employer’s opinion concerning religious or political matters, or (b) listen to speech or view communications that have a primary purpose of communicating the employer’s opinion regarding religious or political matters.  The law goes into effect on July 1, 2022.

The law expands Connecticut General Statutes § 31-51q, which statute already gives both public and private employees the right to sue their employer if the employer disciplines or fires the employee because of his or her exercise of free speech rights under both the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Connecticut Constitution. Such protected speech must be on a matter of “public concern” and must not substantially or materially interfere with the employee’s job performance or relationship with their employer.

This new “captive audience” amendment to the statute goes further, prohibiting an employer from disciplining or discharging an employee for “refusing to (A) attend an employer-sponsored meeting with the employer or its agent, representative or designee, the primary purpose of which is to communicate the employer’s opinion concerning religious or political matters, or (B) listen to speech or view communications, the primary purpose of which is to communicate the employer’s opinion concerning religious or political matters.” Political matters might include a decision to join or support a political party or labor organization.

While the bill was championed by the state’s unions and largely seen as a measure to protect workers from employer intimidation during union organizing campaigns, the language of the law is not limited to the topic of unionization. Pro-business groups such as the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA) have deemed the controversial legislation to be an unconstitutional gag order on account of it being preempted by federal law under the National Labor Relations Act, reflecting an adversarial attitude toward Connecticut businesses in the way it dictates how employers interact with employees.

Among other concerns, employers should be aware that workers might use this new law to justify their refusal to participate in any meeting or training session—such as a session covering diversity, equity, and inclusion for instance—because it violates their political or religious beliefs. As the new law goes into effect, the attorneys at Murtha Cullina are ready to advise on this and other workplace speech issues.

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Photo of Emily McDonough Souza Emily McDonough Souza

Emily McDonough Souza is counsel in the Labor & Employment and Litigation practices at Murtha Cullina.  Her experience includes representing clients in a broad range of disputes involving insurance coverage, business torts, and contractual rights, as well as representing employers in claims involving…

Emily McDonough Souza is counsel in the Labor & Employment and Litigation practices at Murtha Cullina.  Her experience includes representing clients in a broad range of disputes involving insurance coverage, business torts, and contractual rights, as well as representing employers in claims involving discrimination and retaliation, breach of non-compete and restrictive covenants, and wage and hour violations.  Emily has regularly appeared on behalf of clients in both state and federal court matters, including oral arguments, mediations, depositions, and pretrial conferences.

Prior to joining Murtha Cullina, Emily clerked for the Honorable Eliot D. Prescott of the Connecticut Appellate Court.  She received her J.D. magna cum laude from Quinnipiac University School of Law, where she served as the Executive Managing Editor of the Quinnipiac Law Review. Emily earned her B.S. magna cum laude from the University of Connecticut, where she was a member of the Honors Program.

Photo of Patricia E. Reilly Patricia E. Reilly

Patricia E. Reilly, Chair of the Labor and Employment Practice Group, is an experienced litigator who represents clients in a wide range of cases including, employment discrimination and related torts, non-compete and restrictive covenants, wage and hour, breach of contract, unfair trade practices…

Patricia E. Reilly, Chair of the Labor and Employment Practice Group, is an experienced litigator who represents clients in a wide range of cases including, employment discrimination and related torts, non-compete and restrictive covenants, wage and hour, breach of contract, unfair trade practices, and business disputes. In addition to maintaining a thriving litigation practice, Tricia counsels clients on a variety of employment-related issues including hiring, firing, and discipline; wage and hour; state and federal FMLA; sexual harassment investigations and prevention; Title IX; pregnancy and disability accommodation; and avoidance of employment discrimination liability.

Tricia is listed as a leading Labor and Employment Lawyer in Chambers USA.  She is listed in Best Lawyers in America®, and in 2017, Best Lawyers in America® recognized her as “Lawyer of the Year”, New Haven, Litigation – Labor and Employment. Tricia is a member of the American Bar Association, the Connecticut Bar Association and the New Haven County Bar Association.  She received her B.A. from Wesleyan University and her J.D. from University of California, Berkeley School of Law.