George JepsenHARTFORD: Connecticut Attorney General, George Jepsen has again issued an opinion on the attempts by state legistlators to limit the speech rights of employers.

House Bill 5473, which would restrict businesses’ ability to speak freely in meetings with their employees on political, legislative, regulatory, or union organizing topics.

Jepsen said that the opinion found that federal law under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) would preempt the state legislation. He made a similar ruling in 2011 on a different bill, but proponents argue that the attendance at meetings is not speech but an action by the companies.

Jepsen is following the Federal NLRA law first past in 1966 that allowed employers to hold, “captive audience” meetings with employees.

The NFIB, which represents small businesses in Connecticut and across the country released a statement that said that in addition to the conflict with the NLRA law it believes “preventing such free speech would violate the First Amendment.”

“Small-business owners often hold meetings with employees to share valuable information that could impact both the company and the employees themselves,” said State Director for NFIB in Connecticut. Andrew Markkowsi. “Any private business owner has that right under federal law and the U.S. Constitution to hold those briefings.”

“The language in the Connecticut bill used a broad brush, even appearing to restrict meetings between employers and their workers on the discussion of charitable causes,” added Markowski. “Good communication is essential to running a business effectively, and HB 5473 would have a silencing effect on supervisors and employees.

A statement by the CBIA said, “today’s formal opinion issued by Attorney General George Jepsen on HB 5473 reinforces the business community’s arguments: The National Labor Relations Act protects employer-employee communications and, therefore, preempts this bill.

Although the attorney general's opinion has now made passage of the so-called captive audience bill unlikely, if enacted, the proposal would prevent discussions in mandatory workplace meetings between employers and employees of any issues related to community engagement, unionization, wages and benefits, working conditions, and even legislation or regulations that could impact the business.”

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