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Newest States to Ban Captive Audience Meetings: Colorado & Washington

Two states, Colorado and Washington, are likely to begin banning employers from having mandatory employee meetings about religion and politics.

These meetings, also called “captive audience meetings,” are often mandated by employers. If an employee doesn’t attend, there is the threat of penalty, discipline, and even discharge from employment—this includes being unable to join a union. Colorado and Washington are both proposing new legislation; if this new legislation is passed, there will be no more mandatory captive audience meetings. 

Colorado’s Bill

The bill proposed by Colorado democrats is still early in the works; however, it has some of the biggest penalties for employers regarding unlawful captive audience meetings.

These penalties include actual damages, which cover back and front pay for the employee, or a flat $10,000. Also, there could be an additional $10,000 charge if the employer has had similar violations within the last six months. Additionally, other penalties include equitable relief and paying any attorney fees. 

Although this proposed ban on captive audience meetings excludes certain aspects of communication, employers are still allowed to communicate any information that employees need to know in order to complete their jobs fully. 

Washington’s “Employee Free Choice Act”

In comparison to Colorado, Washington is much closer to having banned captive audience meetings in effect. 

The “Employee Free Choice Act” just passed in the state legislature and is soon to be signed by Jay Inslee, the Democratic governor. This act not only prevents mandatory attendance but also requires employers to post a notice of employee rights. 

If an employee claims they were forced to attend a meeting, they can file a claim within 90 days of the alleged violation. If the case is successful, employees can receive reinstatement, injunctive relief, back pay, and any other appropriate benefits deemed by the court.

Employee Compliance

Currently, captive audience laws affect five states—Connecticut, New York, Maine, Minnesota, and Oregon—and are being considered in nine—Washington, Alaska, Vermont, California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Oregon.

Any employees concerned about union representation or working in these states should act quickly to comply with their state laws.

Here are five steps to take:

  1. Collaborate with labor counsel and internal stakeholders to create appropriate compliance strategies.
  2. Make sure supervisors are trained on all laws and regulations.
  3. Have employee handbooks and policies updated with accurate information regarding voluntary meetings.
  4. If a meeting is to take place regarding a political or religious matter, be clear and upfront with employees that the meeting isn’t mandatory.
  5. Find the right way to document the nature of meetings and attendance.