Breach of An Employment Contract Action In Connecticut
We begin our analysis with a review of the pertinent statutory language.
Section 31-72 provides that "when any employer fails to pay an employee wages in accordance with the provisions of sections 31-71a to 31-71i, inclusive, or fails to compensate an employee in accordance with section 31-76k . . . such employee . . . may recover, in a civil action, twice the full amount of such wages, with costs and such reasonable attorney's fees as may be allowed by the court . . . ." General Statutes 31-71a (3) defines wages as "compensation for labor or services rendered by an employee, whether the amount is determined on a time, task, piece, commission or other basis of calculation . . . ."
General Statutes 31-76k provides: "If an employer policy or collective bargaining agreement provides for the payment of accrued fringe benefits upon termination, including but not limited to paid vacations, holidays, sick days and earned leave, and an employee is terminated without having received such accrued fringe benefits, such employee shall be compensated for such accrued fringe benefits exclusive of normal pension benefits in the form of wages in accordance with such agreement or policy but in no case less than the earned average rate for the accrual period pursuant to sections 31-71a to 31-71i, inclusive."
Section 31-53 (h), which defines an employee welfare fund as that term is used in 31-89a, provides that an employee welfare fund is "any trust fund established by one or more employers and one or more labor organizations or one or more other third parties not affiliated with the employers . . . ."
Furthermore, it appears from the legislative history surrounding the enactment of 31-89a, that the statute was intended to apply to situations involving labor organizations.
Section 31-89a applies to "employee welfare funds" and is included in chapter 559 of the General Statutes, which is titled, "Labor Organizations.
" While an employee welfare fund is a trust fund established to provide benefits under an employee welfare plan, and such benefits include pension and medical benefits, such funds are clearly limited to those established between an employer and a labor organization or other third party not affiliated with the employer. An employee is usually represented by a labor organization.
"There is no question that the legislature may, by the language it uses in a statute or a section of a statute, demonstrate its intent that it be limited or restricted." Taravella v. Stanley, 52 Conn. App. 431, 440, 727 A.2d 727 (1999).
The fact that the legislature, instead of simply amending the definition of wages under 31-72 to include pension and medical benefits, enacted 31-89a in connection with other statutes involving labor organizations and limited its application to "employee welfare funds" connotes a legislative intent that pension and medical benefits qualify as wages under 31-72 in limited circumstances only.
Section 31-89a applies to payments to employee welfare funds as they are defined in 31-53 (h) and, if they are such payments, they shall be considered as wages for purposes of 31-72.
In light of the legislative history surrounding the enactment of 31-89a, its placement in the chapter titled, "Labor Organizations," and because of the limiting language in the statute defining an employee welfare fund, we are not convinced that the legislature intended that all pension and medical benefits constitute "wages" for purposes of 31-72.