We've written about many of the new employment laws that take effect in California in 2014. But as the year winds down, here's a handy-dandy list of the most significant ones (with links to our earlier entries).
Expanding paid family leave rights - Like State Disability Insurance, Paid Family Leave is paid for with deductions from employees' paychecks. When enacted, the law provided up to six weeks of wage replacement benefits to workers who took time off to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, parent, or domestic partner, or to bond with a newborn or a child recently placed through adoption or foster care. Now those rights will extend to workers who need time to care for siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, and parents-in-law. And while we're on the topic, San Francisco employers need to also pay attention to San Francisco's new Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance.
Increasing the state minimum wage – Currently $8 per hour, it goes up to $9 on July 1, 2014 and $10 on January 1, 2016. This affects not only nonexempt workers, but also those working under the administrative, professional, and executive exemptions in California (who must earn a salary equivalent to at least two times the state minimum wage for full-time employment to qaulify for the exemption).
Expanded definition of sexual harassment - This new law states that sexual harassment doesn't have to be motivated by sexual desire. No case or statute said otherwise, but the legislature saw fit to unanimously pass a law saying what sexual harassment isn't. This will only cause confusion for courts and juries trying to determine what sexual harassment is.
New protections for crime victims – SB 400 takes existing laws that prohibit discrimination against victims of domestic violence or sexual assault and expands them to include stalking victims. It also requires employers to reasonably accommodate (which may include taking safety measures) victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. In addition, SB 288 prohibits discrimination against victims of specified felonies (including child abuse, domestic violence, physical abuse of the elderly or a dependent adults, sexual assault, and solicitation for murder) and requires that they be given time off to appear in court.
New protections for immigrants – Thinking about reporting an employee who complained about Labor Code violations to Immigration and Customs Enforcement? Bad idea! Under AB 263, that's an "unfair immigration-related practices." Well what if you just threaten to report him? Another bad idea! (Seriously, where do you come up with these?) Employers who do that can lose their business licenses (pursuant to SB 666) and be charged with criminal extortion (pursuant to AB 524)
AB 556 makes "military and veteran status" a protected category under the Fair Employment and Housing Act – For those keeping score (or responsible for updating personnel policies), they join race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, and sexual orientation.
While we wait to learn which employment laws are being taken off the books to make room for these new ones (as if), here are steps employers can take to better protect themselves:
- Make sure personnel policies and handbooks are up to date (including the lists of categories protected from discrimination);
- Train managers to understand the various types of leave available to California employees (or at least to refer inquiries to someone knowledgeable);
- Regarding the expanding definition of sexual harassment:
- Ensure that personnel policies prohibit not just harassment, but also vulgar language, sexual innuendo, sexual propositions, threats, and bullying.
- Be vigilant in enforcing those policies.
- Respond to complaints of bullying, crude behavior, and mistreatment that aren't necessarily "because of sex" as you would to a sexual harassment complaint. This means you need to conduct (or have someone qualified conduct) a prompt, fair, and thorough investigation and, where necessary, take steps reasonably calculated to stop the behavior.
- Most importantly, continue following our widely praised blog for further updates on California employment law!
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.