2014 will bring new laws for California employers, including an increase in the minimum wage, refinements to existing protections for employees, an expansion in the scope of discrimination protections, and additional protections to immigrant laborers.
AB 10 – Minimum Wage Increases: The state’s minimum wage will increase to $9 per hour on July 1, 2014, and $10 per hour on January 1, 2016. Employers should plan for these increases, both for their hourly employees who are paid minimum wage, and for exempt administrative, executive and professional employees who must be paid a salary equal to at least two times the minimum wage in order to qualify as exempt. Thus, the exempt minimum salary will jump to $37,440 on July 1, 2014, and $41,600 on January 1, 2016.
SF 400 – Enhanced Rights for Stalking Victims: Existing law protects victims of domestic violence and sexual assault who need to take time off of work to address those issues. SB 400 extends those protections to stalking victims by amending Labor Code Sections 230 and 230.1 to make it illegal to discharge, discriminate against, or retaliate against employees that request time off for issues related to stalking. Furthermore, time off from work may be requested to appear in court or obtain other legal relief, receive medical attention or psychological counseling related to stalking, services from a program or shelter, or safety planning. SB 400 also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for enhanced safety for stalking victims, including consideration of options such as transfer, reassignment, a modified schedule, changing an employee’s work telephone number or work station, assistance in documenting the stalking, or installing locks. Employers may request certification for the need for an accommodation, such as a police report, court order, or documentation from a medical professional.
AB 556 – Military and Veteran Status Protections: The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) was amended to add “military and veteran status” to the list of categories protected from employment discrimination. The new law nevertheless allows an employer to inquiry regarding military or veteran status for the purpose of awarding certain preferences permitted by law, such as those offered to Vietnam-era veterans. “Military and veteran status” means a member or veteran of the United States Armed Forces, United States Armed Forces Reserve, the United States National Guard, and the California National Guard. California’s full list of protected categories is now as follows: race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, or military and veteran status. Keep in mind that the law scrutinizes not only whether an affected employee is actually a member of these protected classes, but also the perception that the person has any protected characteristics or that the person is associated with a person who has, or is perceived to have, any protected characteristics.
SB 292 – Sexual Desire not Required under FEHA: SB 292 clarifies that plaintiffs do not have to prove that sexually harassing conduct was motivated by sexual desire. This change was made to clarify the law following a 2011 California Court of Appeals case, Kelly v. Conco Companies, which held that a plaintiff in a same-sex harassment case must prove that the harasser harbored a sexual desire for the plaintiff in order to survive summary judgment. Bill sponsors argued that the decision directly contradicted a 2006 California Court of Appeal case Singleton v. United States Gypsum Co. and the U.S. Supreme Court decision Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc.
AB 241 – Domestic Work Employees: The Domestic Worker Bill of Rights requires overtime pay at one and one-half times an employee’s regular rate of pay to any nanny, housekeeper, maid or personal attendant who works more than 9 hours in any workday or more than 45 hours in any workweek. Exempted from the requirement are babysitters under the age of 18, family members who provide babysitting services, and “casual babysitters” whose employment is irregular or intermittent and is not performed by an individual whose vocation is babysitting. Such babysitters who do a significant amount of work other than supervising, feeding, and dressing a child, are not exempt, however, and are to be considered domestic work employees, entitled to overtime. A person who is a casual babysitter who is over 18 years of age retains the right to payment of minimum wage for all hours worked.
AB 263 – Immigration-Related Practices: Labor Code section 98.6 prohibits employer retaliation against applicants or employees who engage in protected conduct, providing for reinstatement and reimbursement of lost wages as a remedy. AB 263 clarifies that written or oral complaints regarding owed wages are protected conduct for purposes of retaliation claims. The bill also adds new Labor Code provisions protecting employees from retaliation for exercising rights such as filing a complaint about violations of the Labor Code or local ordinances, seeking information about compliance, or informing a person about his or her rights and remedies and assisting him or her with asserting those rights. The law also identifies certain “unfair immigration practices,” including requesting more or different documents of an applicant than are allowed under federal law; refusing to honor documents that reasonably appear genuine on their face; using the federal E-verify program to check authorization status of a person at a time or in a manner not required or authorized under the program procedures; and threatening to file or filing a false police report. Employers are, however, permitted to engage in “conduct at the express and specific direction or request of the federal government.” AB 263 provides a rebuttable presumption that adverse action taken against an applicant or employee within 90 days of the employee having exercised the rights described above is retaliatory.
SB 666 – Retaliation based on Citizenship or Immigration Status / Protection of Whistleblowers: Employers can now have their business licenses suspended or revoked for threatening to retaliate or retaliating against an employee based on citizenship or immigration status. In addition, the new law protects whistleblowers by prohibiting retaliation based on a worker’s testimony or providing information to a public body regarding the employer’s violation of a local, state, or federal statute or regulation, or to any person with authority over the employee, or to another employee who has the authority to investigate the claim. In addition, an attorney may be subject to suspension, disbarment, or other discipline if he or she threatens to report the immigration status of a witness or party to a civil or administrative action because the witness or party exercises or has exercised a right related to his or her employment. In addition to existing remedies for reinstatement and reimbursement of lost wages, SB 666 also provides for a civil penalty up to $10,000.
SB 435 – Recovery Periods to Prevent Heat Illness: SB 435 amends Labor Code Section 226.7, relating to recovery periods that allow employees to cool down to prevent heat illness. Penalties for failure to provide the recovery period are one additional hour of pay at the regular rate of pay for each day the recovery period was not provided.
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