New California Laws to Alter Workplace Rules

Ringing in the new year means ringing in a whole set of new laws that are important for employers to know. Most of these laws go into effect Jan. 1, but the minimum-wage increase in Los Angeles doesn’t take effect until July 1.

This year, due to the #MeTooMovement, a number of laws have been implemented to make it easier for employees to report sexual harassment and for employers to speak out about investigations into the matter.

There is also a law to prohibit secret settlements of sexual-harassment claims or gender discrimination and another regulation making it mandatory that smaller companies be required to give sexual-harassment training workshops to their supervisors and employees.

Also, expect to see more women on the boards of directors of corporations headquartered in California under a new law that must be complied with by the end of 2019.

Minimum Wage

California’s minimum wage has been going up for the past several years, and this year is no different with a new increase scheduled for Jan. 1. In addition, the minimum wage in Los Angeles and the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County will rise this July.

For smaller companies with 25 or fewer employees, the state minimum wage will go from $10.50 an hour to $11 an hour. For larger companies with 26 or more workers, the hourly salary will inch up from $11 to $12.

In Los Angeles and the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, the minimum wage is slightly higher than the state minimum wage and prevails over California’s lower minimum wage.

On July 1, the minimum wage in Los Angeles and surrounding areas will go from $12 an hour for smaller companies to $13.25 an hour. For larger companies, hourly wages will be hiked from $13.25 an hour to $14.25.

San Francisco is one city that is making sure its residents get paid more as housing prices and rents continue to balloon there. Last July 1, this Northern California city’s minimum wage went up to $15 an hour. The next boost will take place on July 1, when the minimum wage will be adjusted according to the rise in the consumer price index, which reflects inflation.

Payroll Records (SB 1252)

Currently, employees are allowed to inspect or copy their payroll records and should be allowed to do so within 21 days of their request. Senate Bill 1252 cleared up a few things and now requires employers to make and provide the copies of those payroll records rather than requiring that employees find a way to make the copies themselves.

Salary History (AB 2282)

Currently in California, laws ban employers from asking a job applicant’s salary history, but Assembly Bill 2282 allows employers to ask about an applicant’s salary expectations for the position being applied for.

Also, only external applicants (not current employees) may request a pay scale after completing an initial interview, and the pay scale provided only needs to include salary or hourly wage ranges.

Criminal Background Checks (SB 1412)

Right now, state law generally prohibits employers from considering an applicant’s judicially sealed or expunged convictions. Senate Bill 1412 narrows an employer’s ability to consider sealed or expunged convictions to only those circumstances where a particular conviction would legally prohibit someone from holding that job.

Sexual Harassment Rules (SB 1300)

This omnibus bill states that employers can be held responsible for the acts of non-employees with respect to any kind of harassment due to protected status. This includes, among other things, harassment based on sex, gender, race, color, disability, national origin or sexual orientation.

It also lowers the burden of proof in harassment lawsuits, which means it will be more difficult for employers to defend against possible harassment lawsuits.

The bill also prohibits an employer from requiring an employee, in exchange for a raise or bonus or a condition of continued employment, to agree not to sue or bring a claim against the employer or to sign a non-disparagement agreement preventing the employee from disclosing information about unlawful acts in the workplace.

Sexual Harassment Defamation Claims (AB 2770)

This bill gives greater protection to alleged victims of sexual harassment by a coworker and makes it easier for them to make complaints to their employer without the fear of being found liable for defaming the alleged harasser.

It also protects employers when making statements to interested parties, such as the Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, regarding the complaints of sexual harassment. However, this is only protected from liability for defamation if the claims are made without malice and based upon credible evidence.

In addition, an employer is further protected from liability for defamation when answering an inquiry from a prospective employer as to whether or not the employer would rehire the applicant. The former employer is allowed to say whether the decision was based on the applicant being engaged in sexual harassment.

The idea behind this bill was that more victims of sexual harassment might be willing to come forward and speak out about workplace sexual harassment. It also gives employers the solace that if they investigate claims of sexual harassment, participate in investigations by administrative bodies or notify prospective employers about a sexual harasser, they will not be sued or held liable for defamation.

Protection Against Secret Settlements (SB 820)

With settlement agreements, this law prohibits provisions that prevent disclosure of factual information pertaining to claims of sexual assault, sexual harassment, gender discrimination or related retaliation that have been filed in court or before an administrative agency.

This new law does not prohibit a provision that prevents the parties to the agreement from disclosing the settlement amount, but, at the claimant’s request, it can limit the disclosure of the claimant’s identity or of facts that would lead to the discovery of the claimant’s identity.

Waiver of Rights to Testify (AB 3109)

Any provision in a contract or settlement agreement will be deemed unenforceable if it prohibits testimony about criminal conduct or sexual harassment in an administrative, legislative or judicial proceeding. This covers only testimony that is required, such as by subpoena or a court order, or in response to a written request in an administrative or legislative hearing.

Sexual Assault Statute of Limitations (AB 1619)

The amount of time individuals may file a civil action for damages for sexual assault has been extended from three years to 10 years after the alleged assault or three years after the plaintiff discovered or reasonably discovered injury as a result of the assault, whichever is later.

More Women on Boards of Directors (SB 826)

Any publicly held corporation with its main executive offices in California shall be required to have at least one female director on its board by Dec. 31, 2019. Depending on the board’s size, as many as three female members may be required by the end of 2021.

The fine for violating this law is $100,000 for the first violation and $300,000 for a second violation and any subsequent violations.

Sexual Harassment Training (SB 1343)

Currently, the state law stipulates that employers with 50 or more workers must provide supervisors with two hours of sexual-harassment training. By Jan. 1, 2020, Senate Bill 1343 requires that employers with five or more employees be required to provide two hours of sexual-harassment training to supervisors and one hour to non-supervisors within six months of hire or promotion and every two years after that.

Lactation Accommodation (AB 1976)

As of now, employers in California must provide a private location in close proximity to where female employees work, other than a toilet stall, for them to express breast milk. Assembly Bill 1976 brings California more in line with federal law, which requires employers to provide a lactation location other than a bathroom. The new law will provide undue hardship exemptions under limited circumstances.

Paid Family Leave (SB 1123)

Currently, California has a paid family-leave program that provides partial wage replacement to employees who take a leave of absence for specific purposes. This new law is a little more ample than the previous law and allows employees to take time off for being called to active duty or when a spouse, domestic partner, parent or child is called to active duty. This law goes into effect January 2021.