Senate bill would penalize employers for retaliating against immigrant workers

Hartford — The state Senate has unanimously passed a bill that would penalize employers for discriminating against immigrant workers, whether documented or undocumented. On the first offense businesses could be fined up to $500 for requiring employment documentation other than what is legally required for employment or threatening to contact immigrant authorities in retaliation for the employee asserting his or her employee rights.

“I would have to say that what we are talking about here is extreme,” said state Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven. “We are talking about employers who would be using their power to dominate employees.”

Former and current immigrant workers said during a public hearing in Bridgeport that they had worked 24 hours in one day and were paid for eight hours of work, Holder-Winfield said. Others said they were paid $25 for an entire week of work.

“The types of actions we are talking about are not simple infractions,” Holder-Winfield said. “These are actions that go against our sense of what it means to be an employee in Connecticut.

The bill aims to penalize employers for retaliating against an employee who speaks up about his or her employee rights. If an employee files a complaint with the state’s labor commissioner within 180 days of the alleged retaliatory action, the employer is responsible for proving that the action was not retaliatory with in 90 days of the complaint, according to Senate Bill 371.

If the commissioner finds violations, he or she can impose fines of up to $500 for the first offense and up to $1,000 for each subsequent violation. The commissioner may also suspend the employer’s license to do business in Connecticut for up to 30 days for the initial violation and up to 90 days for each subsequent violation.

The employee may also be awarded relief including rehiring, reinstatement, back pay and reestablishment of benefits, among other awards.

Republicans proposed a handful of amendments in opposition of the bill. All amendments failed except one that says employers would not be penalized for not hiring someone who was diagnosed with pedophilia and sought to work in an environment with children.

Republicans said the penalties in the bill are too strong, that many federal laws already exist to protect employees and that the bill is another piece of legislation that sent the wrong message to businesses.

“A 30-day shutdown for many businesses would be a death warrant for many businesses,” said state Sen. Joe Markley, R-Plantsville.

j.somers@theday.com

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