Law Updates

AB 2337 – Employment protections for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking

AB 2337 requires that employers with 25 or more employees to provide specific information in writing to new employees upon hire and to other employees upon request of their rights to take leave under Labor Code Section 230.1 (relating to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking). This Bill also requires that, on or before July 1, 2017, the Labor Commissioner develops a form that employers may elect to use to comply with these provisions and to post it on the Labor Commissioner’s website. Employers are not required to comply with the notice of rights requirement until the Labor Commissioner posts such form.

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The California Legislature enacted a number of new bills that become effective in 2016. Below is a summary of this upcoming year’s most significant legal developments.

Wage and Hour

California’s minimum wage increases to $10 per hour, effective January 1, 2016. Many cities also have local minimum wage ordinances that exceed the state minimum.

AB 1513 provides that employers must pay piece-rate employees for rest and recovery periods and all other periods of “nonproductive” time in addition to their piece-rate compensation. Specifically, the bill would require that employers compensate rest and recovery periods and “other nonproductive time” as follows:

  • Compensate employees for rest and recovery periods at a regular hourly rate that is no less than the higher of either the applicable minimum wage or an “average hourly rate.” The “average hourly rate” is calculated as follows: [(total workweek compensation) – (rest/recovery compensation + overtime premium compensation)] ÷ [(total workweek hours worked) – (rest/recovery periods)].
  • Compensate employees for all “other nonproductive time” at an hourly rate that is no less than the applicable minimum wage.

This law also requires that the following additional categories of information appear on a piece-rate employee’s itemized wage statement: (i) the total hours of compensable rest and recovery periods, the rate of compensation paid for those periods, and the gross wages paid for those periods during the pay period.

SB 588 authorizes the Labor Commissioner to file a lien on real estate, or a levy on an employer’s property, or impose a stop order on an employer’s business, as a means to remedy nonpayment of wages. The law allows for personal liability for individuals who violate certain Labor Code provisions while acting on behalf of employers.. A bond of up to $150,000 may be required of an employer who does not promptly pay a judgment for unpaid wages.

AB 970 allows the Labor Commissioner to investigate and enforce local overtime and minimum wage laws and issue citations and penalties where employers fail to reimburse employees for employer-required expenses.

California Fair Pay Act

The California Fair Pay Act (CFPA), SB 358, seeks to remedy gender-based wage differentials. Governor Brown has referred to the new law as “the strongest equal pay law in the nation.” The old California law required that employees complaining of wage differentials compare to employees that perform the “same” job, with the “same” skill, effort and responsibility. The new law requires employees to show others performing only “substantially similar work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions”. The comparators need not even work in the “same establishment.” Further, employers now bear the burden of proof on these claims and must “affirmatively demonstrate” that a disparity is based entirely on one or more valid factors other than sex.

The law also targets “pay secrecy,” by allowing employees to disclose, discuss and inquire about their own and other employees’ wages, and to aid other employees in exercising their rights under the CFPA. There is now a private right of action for retaliation or discharge in violation of the CFPA, with available relief including reinstatement, reimbursement for lost wages and benefits, and injunctive relief.

Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) and the Opportunity to Cure

AB 1506 provides some relief to employers. It amends the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) to allow employers a limited right to cure wage statement violations, which involve failure to provide itemized wage statements containing 1) pay period dates and 2) the name and address of the legal entity, before individuals can bring civil suits for such alleged violations. However, employers are only permitted to cure such violations once within each 12-month period.

Discrimination, Retaliation and Whistleblower Protections

AB 1509 amends Labor Code sections 98.6, 1102.5, 2810.3 and 6310, expanding whistleblower and anti-retaliation protections to family members of whistleblowers. The law now protects an employee who is a family member of a person who engaged in, or is perceived to have engaged in, legally protected conduct. The law also expands joint employer liability, expanding the definition of employer to include “client employers” (i.e. companies who contract for labor).

AB 987 prohibits employers from discriminating or retaliating against employees who request an accommodation for a disability or religion, regardless of whether the request was ultimately granted. The act of making the request is considered protected conduct and is actionable as a separate claim from the protected-class status of the employee.

SB 600 expands the protections of the Unruh Civil Rights Act by prohibiting discrimination by business establishments based on citizenship, primary language, or immigration status. While this law doesn’t apply in the employment context, it is applicable in conducting business with customers, vendors, etc.

Leave Law Expansions

SB 579 expands child-related leaves, broadening the reasons employees may take time off from work to: 1) find a school or a licensed child care provider and to enroll or re-enroll a child, and 2) address child care provider or school emergencies. This law applies to employers with 25 or more employees.

Unemployment and Disability Insurance

SB 667, effective July 1, 2016, changes eligibility waiting periods where an individual files a second disability claim for the same or related condition as his or her initial claim. Also, the duration of the “disability benefit period” is extended from 14 days to 60 days.

AB 1245 requires employers with ten or more employees file for unemployment insurance using the e-file system. The requirements take effect January 1, 2017 for employers with 10 or more employees and January 1, 2018 for all remaining employers.

Finally, and importantly, AB 622 expands the definition of an “unlawful employment practice” to prohibit employers from using the E-Verify system at a time or in a manner not required by federal law, or not authorized by a federal agency memorandum of understanding, to check the employment authorization status of an existing employee or an applicant who has not received an offer of employment. In other words, the law prohibits the employer from using E-Verify to initiate inquiries on those current employee hired before registration or before an offer of employment is extended and accepted. The purpose of this law is to prevent discrimination such that the employer cannot pick and choose who to run through E-Verify and prohibiting screening. There is a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation of the provisions of the bill. Note that the actions now prohibited under California law already violate federal law and the memorandum of understanding employers agree to when enrolling in E-Verify.

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