Does the Term ''Wages'' Includes Pension and Medical Benefits ?
The consideration of whether the term "wages" in 31-72 includes pension and medical benefits is guided by well established principles of statutory construction.
"The process of statutory interpretation involves a reasoned search for the intention of the legislature. . . . Wright Bros. Builders, Inc. v. Dowling, 247 Conn. 218, 226, 720 A.2d 235 (1998); State v. Albert, 50 Conn. App. 715, 719, 719 A.2d 1183 (1998), cert. granted on other grounds, 247 Conn. 954, 723 A.2d 810 (1999).
In other words, we seek to determine, in a reasoned manner, the meaning of the statutory language as applied to the facts of this case . . . . In seeking to determine that meaning, we look to the words of the statute itself, to the legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to implement, and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter. . . . Luce v. United Technologies Corp., 247 Conn. 126, 133, 717 A.2d 747 (1998). " New Milford Savings Bank v. Jajer, 52 Conn. App. 69, 78-79, 726 A.2d 604 (1999).
The appellate courts of Connecticut have not yet considered whether the term "wages" in 31-72 includes pension and medical benefits. Fulco v. Norwich Roman Catholic Diocesan Corp., 27 Conn. App. 800, 609 A.2d 1034 (1992), appeal dismissed, 226 Conn. 404, 627 A.2d 931 (1993), however, is instructive in our analysis of this claim.
In Fulco, we determined whether an amendment to 31-72, effective on July 1, 1990, should apply retrospectively to a plaintiff who was discharged in 1989 and, if not, whether the term "wages" in 31-72 was broad enough to include vacation pay. Id., 804-805.
The court held that the trial court properly refused to apply the amendment retrospectively, reasoning that "it is significant that the legislature chose not to amend the statutory definition of 'wages' set forth in 31-71a (3).
Instead, it altered the text of 31-72, which delineates the breadth of statutory liability, by authorizing double damages when an employer fails to pay an employee wages or fails to compensate an employee in accordance with (General Statutes ) 31-76k . . . . the use of the disjunctive 'or' clearly indicates that compensation in accordance with 31-76k is distinct from wages. See State v. Dennis, 150 Conn. 245, 248, 188 A.2d 65 (1963) ".Fulco v. Norwich Roman Catholic Diocesan Corp., 27 Conn. App. at 804-805.
Although we are not here concerned with 31-76k, we accept Fulco's reasoning that the legislature intended that 31-76k and the statutory definition of wages in 31-71a (3) concern different types of remuneration. Section 31-76k addresses payment for accrued fringe benefits upon termination of employment, including certain fringe benefits, whereas 31-72 relates to "wages" as defined in 31-71a (3).
After determining that the amendment should not be applied retrospectively, the court in Fulco held that vacation pay was not included in "wages." Id., 804.
In construing the plain language of the statute, we stated that "the definition of wages is limited to remuneration for labor or services rendered, and does not include vacation pay, which is compensation for loss of wages." Id.
In another context, Luce v. United Technologies Corp., supra, 247 Conn. 126, also is instructive.
The court in Luce determined that General Statutes 31-310, a section of the Workers' Compensation Act, which uses the term "average weekly wage," does not include medical, dental, life insurance, pension, vacation or sick pay payments.
"Wages" are not defined in the act or in 31-310. the court concluded that the term "wages" as used in 31-310 does not include income. Income is defined under another section of the act to include all forms of remuneration from employment, including wages and other benefits.
In other words, the court determined that when the term "wages" is used, it is limited, unless otherwise defined, to periodic payment for services and does not include other forms of remuneration.
"Wages" are defined in the statutes applicable to the present case, and the definition conforms to the classic or dictionary definition. Wages are payment for services on a weekly, daily or hourly basis or by the piece. the American Heritage Dictionary (2d Ed. 1991).
"The principal canon of statutory construction is that where the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, we interpret the statute to mean what it says. Winchester Woods Associates v. Planning & Zoning Commission, 219 Conn. 303, 310, 592 A.2d 953 (1991). Fulco v. Norwich Roman Catholic Diocesan Corp., supra, 27 Conn. App. 804.
The statutory definition of "wages" as used in 31-72 is limited on its face and makes no mention of fringe benefits such as pension or medical benefits.
"It is the duty of the court to interpret statutes as they are written . . . and not by construction read into statutes provisions which are not clearly stated." New Milford Savings Bank v. Jajer, supra, 52 Conn. App. 79. We conclude that the plain language of 31-72 and 31-71a (3) indicates that the term "wages" in 31-72 does not include pension and medical benefits.
We see no reason to treat pension and medical benefits differently than Fulco treated vacation pay. If the legislature in enacting 31-72 did not intend to include benefits such as vacation pay within the meaning of "wages" as used in the statute, then it would be illogical to conclude that the legislature intended that other benefits such as pension and medical benefits be included without so specifying.
Section 31-89a (a) provides: "Payments to employee welfare funds, as defined in subsection (h) of section 31-53, which are past due under the terms of a written contract or rules and regulations adopted by the trustees of such funds shall be considered as wages for the purpose of section 31-72."
General Statutes 31-53 (h) defines an employee welfare fund as "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 to provide from moneys in the fund, whether through the purchase of insurance or annuity contracts or otherwise, benefits under an employee welfare plan . . . 'benefits under an employee welfare plan' means one or more benefits or services under any plan established or maintained for employees or their families or dependents, or for both, including, but not limited to, medical, surgical or hospital care benefits; benefits in the event of sickness, accident, disability or death; benefits in the event of unemployment, or retirement benefits."