Homecare agencies ask governor to veto part of budget bill

Representatives of a Connecticut-based homecare agencies appear at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, Conn., Wednesday, June 12, 2019, to call on Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont to veto part of the new state budget. The Coalition to Make Homecare Better said a provision barring non-compete agreements would be harmful to the agencies and their clients. (AP Photo/Susan Haigh)

HARTFORD, Conn. — A coalition of homecare agencies is urging Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont to veto part of the new state budget bill, arguing it will harm both the industry and clients.

The advocates said Wednesday they were surprised to see broad language appear in the bill that bars homemaker, companion or home health services agencies from enforcing non-compete agreements. They argued it would ultimately ban the more narrow "non-solicitation clauses" in employee contracts. Such clauses prevent a worker from soliciting an agency's clients to become a private client or to follow them to another agency for limited amounts of time.

They also prevent a worker from trying to persuade a client to do things like donate to their church or hire a relative to mow their lawn.

"We're trying to preserve our business model, which has been very effective now for 20 years for keeping people safe and independent in their own homes," said Nicholas Miller, owner of the agency Comfort Keepers in Enfield. "This doesn't really make sense."

Lamont has not yet signed the budget bill into law, but his spokeswoman Maribel LaLuz said the Democratic administration looked forward to seeing the prohibition becoming state law. She said it would end a practice that "diminishes the quality of life for some of our most vulnerable communities." Legal aid groups have supported the ban, arguing that non-compete agreements ultimately suppress wages for the lowest income people in the state.

"These workers fear violating a non-compete if they leave their jobs for better offers or opportunities. Non-compete agreements impact wage growth, job mobility and career development," wrote the leaders of several legal aid groups in a recent letter to Lamont.

The provision was originally part of a human services bill that Lamont proposed earlier this year. LaLuz said the administration listened to concerns about the proposal during a public hearing in March.

"We strongly believe the health, safety and comfort of our elderly or persons with disabilities should not be disrupted by an employer limiting their employees with unfair practices," she said.

But the representatives of the homecare agencies and some employees who appeared Wednesday at the Legislative Office Building said eliminating these non-solicitation clauses will allow caregivers to drag clients from one agency to another, without an in-depth plan of care. Clients, they argued, would also lose out on the screening and training provided by the agencies, as well as regular scheduling of care and backup staff when a worker is out. They predicted homecare agencies, already facing funding challenges, will lose business if the change becomes law.

John Richards, owner of FirstLight Home Care of Western Connecticut, said no other state has enacted such a ban. He contends it's unnecessary.

"Most agencies allow caregivers to work for other companies simultaneously, and to have private clients on the side if they choose," Richards said. "We only ask that our employees not solicit the clients we have matched them with, either to take them to another agency or to convert them into private clients. Without that protection, homecare agencies in short order could become merely referral services."

If Lamont ultimately signs the budget bill without vetoing the non-compete agreement language, the agencies hope state lawmakers will pass another bill in a special legislative session to address their concerns. The ban would take effect once the budget bill is signed into law.

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