After being faced with a challenging year in 2020, most people expected 2021 to be the year of return to normalcy; however, 2021 proved to be quite the opposite. Today, a majority of employees continue to work remotely or participate in a hybrid work model. While some employers have set a return to work date for January 2022, some employers have decided to wait and see what happens next. With pandemic-related issues still at the forefront, employers cannot lose sight of important laws and developments that occurred in 2021. Therefore, with the year coming to a close, here is a review of the top five important labor and employment law developments in 2021.

  1. Remote work is here to stay.

While most employers anticipated a full return to work in 2021, this has not been the case, and a significant number of employers are now considering a hybrid work model for employees going forward. With these potential changes, employers should take some time to review and update their policies, including their work from home policy. Employers should also take workers’ compensation issues into consideration if their employees continue to work from home. It is safe to say that the pandemic has changed the workplace going forward, and employers should make necessary policy and practice updates accordingly.

  1. October 1, 2021 new laws.

While there is much attention around COVID-19 and its effect and impact on the workplace, employers should not lose focus of important developments. Several new laws went into effect in Connecticut on October 1, 2021, and employers should be mindful of them. Some of these include:

a. Public Act 21-30: prohibits employers from refusing or failing to provide a job applicant with a wage range for the position for which the applicant is applying.

b. Public Act 21-27: requires that an employer provide a lactation room in their workplace, including a refrigerator, for a mother to express milk.

c. Public Act 21-69: makes it discriminatory for an employer to ask an applicant to provide their age, date of birth and dates of attendance or graduation from an educational institution.

  1. The CROWN Act.

In March 2021, Governor Lamont signed the CROWN Act into law which went into effect immediately. The Act makes it illegal to discriminate in employment on the basis of a hairstyle related to race. The State’s anti-discrimination statute, now amended, defines race as “inclusive of ethnic traits historically associated with race, including but not limited to hair texture and protective hairstyles.” Protective hairstyles include, but is not limited to, “wigs, headwraps, and hairstyles such as individual braids, cornrows, locs, twists, Bantu knots, and afro puffs.” Employers should take some time to update their policies and make hiring managers aware of this law.

  1. OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard for COVID-19 vaccination.

On November 5, 2021, OSHA published its highly anticipated emergency temporary standard (“ETS”). The ETS sets the safety standards and COVID-19 vaccination for employers with 100 or more employees. The ETS imposes new obligations on employers and new rights for employees. Under the ETS, employers MUST either institute a mandatory vaccination policy, or enforce a policy that allows employees who are not fully vaccinated to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering while at work.

As expected, OSHA’s ETS was immediately challenged. On November 12, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a decision and granted a motion to stay the ETS, and ordered that no further steps be taken to implement or enforce the ETS nationally until further order by the Court. Following the Fifth Circuit’s order, the Sixth Circuit now has jurisdiction after multiple lawsuits were filed and consolidated. The government has since filed a motion to lift the stay on the ETS. At this point, we await the Sixth Circuit’s decision on whether it will dissolve the stay.

  1. Connecticut Paid Family Medical Leave Act.

Employers should also keep in mind the changes to the Connecticut Family and Medical Leave Act. While contributions to the fund started in 2021, the changes become effective on January 1, 2022. Take a moment to determine whether these changes are applicable to your organization, the impact on employees, and any requested family or medical leave.

Key takeaway:

With the year coming to a close, employers should think ahead to 2022. One important consideration to keep in mind is whether you will implement a return to work policy, implement a hybrid model, or allow employees to continue working remotely. Regardless of the decision, employers should ensure that their policies are up to date and that their employees are informed of these decisions. In the meantime, we wait to see whether the Sixth Circuit will dissolve the Fifth Circuit’s stay on the ETS.