New California Laws Change Workplace Rules in 2016

California politicians were busy in 2015 passing a bevy of employment laws that will take effect on Jan. 1.

Some laws apply only to specific industries, but everyone will be affected by the new minimum-wage law, which mandates that hourly pay goes from $9 an hour to $10 starting Jan. 1.

This is the first change in the hourly wage since mid-2014, when it rose to $9, which was the first minimum-wage hike in six years.

And those who pay their workers a piece-rate wage will have to take into consideration paying their employees for rest breaks.

Other laws protect workers from discrimination, let them take time off to find schools or daycare for their children, and helps them seek equal pay for equal work. Here’s a summary of the new state employment rules that take effect in 2016.

Piece-rate compensation (AB1513)

This new law applies to employers who have piece-rate workers paid for every item they make.

The regulation requires employers to pay those workers for rest and recovery periods and other nonproductive activities at a specified minimum hourly rate separate from the piece-rate salary.

Also, specific information such as the total hours paid for rest and recovery periods must be included on pay stubs.

The bill includes a safe harbor provision for employers who in the past may not have properly paid their piece-rate workers for recovery and rest periods and face liability. They have until Dec. 15, 2016, to set things straight.

Back wages (SB588)

If employees don’t get paid what they are owed, this new law allows the California Labor Commissioner to slap a lien on an employer’s property to try and recoup the value of the unpaid wages.

If a final judgment against an employer is not paid 30 days after the time to file an appeal has expired or no appeal of the judgment is pending, the employer cannot conduct business unless a bond has been obtained of up to $150,000 and a copy of the bond has been filed with the Labor Commissioner.

Equal-pay act (SB358)

This new law attempts to close the gap between men’s and women’s wages by saying they must be paid the same for “substantially similar work,” an upgrade over the current standard. It allows women to talk about their own pay and inquire about the pay of others without facing discipline.

Employment discrimination (AB987)

Under this new regulation, employers cannot retaliate or discriminate against an employee for requesting a reasonable accommodation for a disability, religious belief or observance, regardless of whether the request was granted.

The request is protected under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

School activities time off (SB579)

Workers should be able to take protected time off from their jobs for school or child-care activities. Those activities include finding a school or a licensed childcare provider or to address school emergencies or childcare provider issues.

This law applies to companies that have more than 25 employees.

Whistleblower (AB1509)

Whistleblower and anti-retaliation measures are expanded under Assembly Bill 1509. The new law prohibits employers from discriminating against a worker when his or her family member engages in whistle-blowing or other protected activities such as complaining about wage theft or unsafe working conditions.

The law expands to include not only the employer but “client employers” such as contractors.

Labor Commissioner (AB970)

The state Labor Commissioner has received expanded power to investigate and enforce local overtime and minimum-wage laws and to issue citations and penalties for violations except when a local authority has already issued a citation.

The Labor Commissioner now has expanded power to issue citations and penalties when employers fail to reimburse workers for employer-required expenses.

State disability insurance eligibility requirement (SB667)

This law goes into effect on July 1. It changes the eligibility waiting period when filing a second disability claim for the same or related disability filed in the first claim. The new regulation also extends the time between claims that will be considered one disability benefit period. Existing law says that if an individual receives two consecutive periods of disability benefits due to the same or a related cause or condition and separated by not more than 14 days, they are considered as one disability benefit period. This latest bill extends to 60 days the time between claims.

Wage garnishment restrictions (SB501)

This is another law that goes into effect on July 1. It reduces the amount of prohibited weekly disposable income subject to withholding orders.

Anti-discrimination law (SB600)

This bill, backed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), expands the category of individuals who may not be discriminated against. The bill mandates that employers may not discriminate against workers because of citizenship, language or immigration status.

Misclassification of truckers (AB621)

This new regulation establishes an amnesty program for companies that previously misclassified their truckers as independent contractors when they should have been classified as full-time employees.

The companies can avoid liability if they voluntarily enter into settlement agreements with the state Labor Commissioner by Jan. 1, 2017.

Unemployment insurance benefits (AB1514)

This law makes changes to eligibility for unemployment insurance when the unemployed worker is taking special training classes or being retrained.

It requires the Employment Development Department to automatically qualify individuals for unemployment-insurance benefits when they are enrolled in an employer-sponsored training program.

E-Verify (AB622)

A new California law makes adjustments to when an employer can use E-Verify, an Internet-based system that lets employers check whether a new hire has the right to work in the United States.

AB622 prohibits employers from using the E-Verify system to check the employment-authorization status of existing employees or applicants who have not received an offer to be hired, except as required by federal law or as a condition of receiving federal funds. The new law does not change employers’ rights from utilizing E-Verify to check the employment-authorization status of a person who has been offered a job.

If an employer receives any government notification about an employee’s E-Verify case that did not match federal records, the employer is required to notify the affected employee as soon as possible.

Any employer who violates this new law may be liable for a civil penalty not to exceed $10,000 for each violation, and each unlawful use of the E-Verify system on an employee or applicant constitutes a separate violation.