United States: 2015 California Labor And Employment Legislation Update: It's Final!

October 11, 2015, was Governor Brown's last day to sign bills the California Legislature presented to him following the first year of the 2015-2016 Legislative Session. Below is a summary of what did and did not make Governor Brown's final cut, and some practical tips for California employers to prepare themselves for compliance with these new California peculiarities.


Piece Rate. AB 1513, adding Labor Code section 226.2 and repealing sections 77.7, 127.6, and 138.65, will make it even more difficult for California employers to pay employees on a piece-rate basis. Effective January 1, 2016, employers must pay piece-rate employees for rest and recovery periods (and all other periods of "nonproductive" time) separately from (and in addition to) their piece-rate compensation. Specifically, employers will need to pay the following rates for rest and recovery periods and "other nonproductive time":

  • Rest and recovery periods. Employers must pay a piece-rate employee for rest and recovery periods at an average hourly rate that is determined by dividing the employee's total compensation for the workweek (not including compensation for rest and recovery periods and overtime premiums) by the total hours worked during the workweek (not including rest and recovery periods).
  • Other nonproductive time. Employers must pay piece-rate employees for other nonproductive time at a rate that is no less than the minimum wage. If employers pay an hourly rate for all hours worked in addition to piece-rate wages, then those employers would not need to pay amounts in addition to that hourly rate for the other nonproductive time.

Employers must specify additional categories of information on a piece-rate employee's itemized wage statement: (i) the total hours of compensable rest and recovery periods, (ii) the rate of compensation paid for those periods, and (iii) the gross wages paid for those periods during the pay period. If employers do not pay a separate hourly rate for all hours worked (in addition to piece-rate wages), then the employer must also list (i) the total hours of other non-productive time, (ii) the rate of compensation for that time, and (iii) the gross wages paid for that time during the pay period. Signed October 10, 2015.

PAGA. AB 1506, amending California's Private Attorneys General Act ("PAGA") codified in Labor Code sections 2699, 2699.3, and 2699.5, became effective upon the Governor's signature on October 2, 2015. PAGA, as thus amended, now gives employers a limited right to cure certain wage-statement violations before an aggrieved employee may sue under PAGA. Specifically, an employer can cure violations of the wage-statement statute (Labor Code section 226(a)) with respect to providing either the inclusive dates of the pay period or the name and address of the legal entity that is the employer. An employer can take advantage of this provision only once for the same violation of the statute during each 12-month period.

Employer Liability: Employee Family Member Protected Complaints & Labor Contractor Joint Liability. AB 1509, effective January 1, 2016, amends Labor Code sections 98.6, 1102.5, and 6310 to forbid employers from retaliating against employees for being a family member of an employee who has, or is perceived to have, engaged in activities protected under those Labor Code sections (i.e., generally, making complaints about working conditions or pay, or whistleblowing). The bill also amends Labor Code section 2810.3—added to the Labor Code in January 2015 to impose joint liability on client employers for employees supplied by a labor contractor (our analysis of that law is here)—to exclude from that law client employers that use Public Utilities Commission-permitted third-party household goods carriers, as specified. Signed October 11, 2015.

Expansion of Labor Commissioner Enforcement Authority. AB 970, effective January 1, 2016, amends Labor Code sections 558, 1197, and 1197.1 to authorize the Labor Commissioner to enforce local laws regarding overtime and minimum wage provisions and to issue citations and penalties for violations, provided the local entity has not already cited the employer for the same violation. The bill also authorizes the Labor Commissioner to issue citations and penalties to employers who violate the expense reimbursement provisions of Labor Code section 2802. Signed October 11, 2015.

Labor Commissioner: Judgment Enforcement. SB 588, effective January 1, 2016, makes various changes and additions to the Labor Code relating to the Labor Commissioner's enforcement authority. Among other things, it authorizes the Labor Commissioner to file a lien on the employer's property in California for unpaid wages, and other compensation, penalties, and interest owed to an employee. Signed October 11, 2015.

Industrial Welfare Commission: Wage Orders—Hospital Meal Periods. SB 327 clarifies that existing law regarding a health care employee's ability to waive voluntarily one of the two meal periods on shifts exceeding 12 hours remains in effect. The bill states that the rules remain the same as they have been since 1993 (as expressly embraced by the Industrial Welfare Commission in 2000). The legislation was adopted to remove any uncertainty caused by the decision in Gerard v. Orange Coast Mem. Med. Ctr., 234 Cal. App. 4th 285 (2015). Signed by the Governor on October 5, 2015, the bill took effect immediately as an urgency measure.

Gender Wage Equality. As we discussed in detail immediately after the Governor's October 6 signing of SB 358, the bill, effective January 1, 2016, amends Labor Code section 1197.5 to prohibit employers from paying any employee at a wage rate less than that paid to employees of the opposite sex for doing substantially similar work—when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility. The new legislation also requires employers to affirmatively demonstrate that a wage differential is based entirely and reasonably upon enumerated factors, such as a seniority system, a merit system, a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, or a bona fide factor that is not based on or derived from a sex-based differential in compensation and that is consistent with a business necessity. The bill contains anti-retaliation provisions and provides a private right of action to enforce its provisions.

Kin Care. SB 579, effective January 1, 2016, amends California's Kin Care law (Labor Code section 233) to tie its protections to the reasons and definition of "family member" specified in the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 (i.e., paid sick leave law). The bill also expands coverage of California's school activities leave (Family School Partnership Act, Labor Code section 230.8) to include day care facilities and cover child care provider emergencies, and the finding, enrolling, or reenrolling of a child in a school or day care, and would extend protections to an employee who is a step-parent or foster parent or who stands in loco parentis to a child. Signed October 11, 2015.

Annual E-Verify Bill. AB 622, effective January 1, 2016, adds section 2814 to the Labor Code to prohibit an employer from using E-Verify to check the employment authorization status of an existing employee or an applicant who has not received an offer of employment, except as required by federal law or as a condition of receiving federal funds. Each employer that uses E-Verify in violation of this new section is liable for $10,000 per violation. Signed October 9, 2015.

Paid Sick Leave Amendments. AB 304, signed by the Governor July 13, 2015, and effective on that date, amends provisions of the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 codified in Labor Code sections 245.5, 246, and 247.5. Read our detailed analysis of this legislation.

Accommodation Request as Protected Activity. AB 987, effective January 1, 2016, amends Government Code section 12940 to overturn the interpretation in Rope v. Auto-Chlor Sys. of Washington, Inc., 220 Cal. App. 4th 635 (2013), that an accommodation request is not a protected activity. The Legislature thus intended to clarify that a request for reasonable accommodation based on religion or disability constitutes protected activity. The Fair Employment and Housing Act, thus amended, will now expressly prohibit retaliation and discrimination against a person for requesting accommodation, regardless of whether the request is granted. Signed July 16, 2015.

Professional Sports Team Cheerleaders as Employees. AB 202, effective January 1, 2016, requires California-based professional major and minor league baseball, basketball, football, ice hockey, and soccer teams to classify and treat cheerleaders who perform during those teams' exhibitions, events, or games as employees and not independent contractors.

90-Day Retention of Grocery Workers Following Change of Ownership. AB 359 and AB 897, effective January 1, 2016, adds Labor Code sections 2500-2522 to require a "successor grocery store employer" to retain the current grocery workers for 90 days upon the "change in control" of a grocery store. The new law, previously discussed here also imposes specific requirements on the incumbent grocery store. Governor Brown noted in his signing message an ambiguity in how the law applies if an incumbent grocery employer has ceased operations, and noted the author and sponsor have committed to clarify that the law would not apply to a grocery store that has ceased operations for six months or more. The Legislature responded with AB 897, which will exclude from the definition of "grocery establishment" a retail store that has ceased operations for six months or more. AB 897 signed September 21, 2015.

VETOED: BILLS THE GOVERNOR REJECTED (i.e., "it coulda been worse")

Arbitration and Pre-Employment Waiver Restrictions. As we recently wrote, AB 465 would have added section 925 to the Labor Code to (i) prohibit companies from conditioning employment offers (or renewals) on the waiver of any Labor Code-related right, (ii) require that any waiver of Labor Code protections be knowing, voluntary, and in writing, (iii) deem any waiver of Labor Code rights conditioned on employment to be "involuntary, unconscionable, against public policy, and unenforceable," (iv) prohibit retaliation against any person who refuses to waive Labor Code-related rights, and (v) authorize an attorneys' fees recovery for a plaintiff who enforces rights under the newly created section 925. The Governor vetoed the bill on October 11, 2015. His signing statement says that arbitration is not necessarily less fair to employees, and even if it were, Armendariz provides protections for employees in arbitration proceedings. Any remaining abuses should be addressed by targeted, not blanket legislation. And Governor Brown wants to see the outcome of two pending FAA-preemption cases before considering such a broad blanket prohibition.

Other Pay Equity Bills. AB 1017 (enrolled and presented to the Governor September 15) and AB 1354 (enrolled September 10). AB 1017 would have added section 432.3 to the Labor Code to prohibit an employer from seeking salary history information about an applicant for employment. AB 1354 would have amended Government Code section 12990 to require, of each employer with over 100 employees that is or wishes to be a state contractor or subcontractor, a nondiscrimination program that includes policies and procedures designed to ensure equal employment opportunities for all applicants and employees, an analysis of employment selection procedures, and a workforce analysis that contains the total number of workers, the total wages, and the total hours worked annually, within a specific job category identified by worker race, ethnicity, and sex. On October 11, the Governor vetoed both bills. In vetoing AB 1017, he stated we should wait to see if SB 358—the strongest equal pay law in the country—covers the issue, and did not think this bill's broad prohibition on employers obtaining relevant information would have any effect on pay equity. In vetoing AB 1354, he stated that the DFEH's current requirements and powers made the legislation unnecessary.

CFRA Leave. SB 406 would have extended the protections of the California Family Rights Act ("CFRA"), Government Code section 12945.2, to care for grandparents, all children (removing any age restriction), and grandchildren, as well as siblings, domestic partners, and in-laws. Vetoed October 11, 2015, because the bill would have created a disparity between FMLA and CFRA.

Athletic Trainers. AB 161 would have made it unlawful and an unfair business practice for any person to use the title of athletic trainer, unless the trainer is certified by the Board of Certification and has completed specified educational or training requirements. Exempt from these provisions were persons who have worked as athletic trainers in California for a period of 20 consecutive years prior to January 1, 2016. AB 161 would have added sections 18898 and 18899 to the Business and Professions Code. Vetoed on September 28, for the same reasons as the nearly identical measure the Governor vetoed last year—he believes that the conditions set forth in the bill impose unnecessary burdens on athletic trainers without sufficient evidence that changes are needed.

ALRA. AB 561 was this year's Agricultural Labor Relations Act bill. It would have required the Agricultural Labor Relations Board to process within one year all board orders finding an employer liable for benefits due to unfair labor practices. It also would have required an employer who appeals an order of the Board involving certain awards to employees to post a bond in the amount of the entire value of the order. The Governor vetoed this bill on October 11, because he does not believe the one-year timeline allows for unexpected delays or litigation—even expedited awards take about 18 months. He also noted that, as he did in SB 28 last year, a balanced approach to ALRA enforcement reforms is needed, and encouraged the ALRB to explore internal reforms for more timely awards.

Unemployed. Undeterred by the Governor's 2014 veto of similar legislation in AB 2271, the Legislature put AB 676 on the Governor's desk, which would have added section 432.4 to the Labor Code to prohibit employers from publishing an announcement for a job that states or indicates an unemployed person is not eligible for the job, and to prohibit employers from asking applicants to disclose, orally or in writing, the applicant's current employment status. The Governor vetoed the bill on October 10, because "nothing has changed. I still believe that the author's approach does not provide a proper or even effective path to get unemployed people back to work."

Public Employees. AB 883 would have added section 432.6 to the Labor Code to prohibit a state or local agency from discriminating against current or former public employees in publishing job advertisements, in establishing qualifications for job eligibility, and in making adverse employment decisions. The bill would also have prohibited persons who operate job posting websites from publishing any job advertisement or announcement that indicates the applicant must not be a current or former public employee. The bill removed private employers from its scope and removes damages and penalty recovery provisions. Vetoed October 10, 2015.

BILLS THAT FAILED TO MAKE THE FINAL LEGISLATIVE CUT (i.e., "it coulda been a lot worse")

Minimum Wage Increase. SB 3 would have increased the minimum wage to $11 per hour in 2016 and $13 per hour in 2017. The bill would have also, beginning January 1, 2019, automatically adjusted the minimum wage on each January 1 to maintain employee purchasing power diminished by the rate of inflation in the prior year. Other minimum wage bills on which we previously reported, AB 1007 and AB 669, failed to make it out of the Assembly. This bill, likewise, stalled in appropriations.

Retail Scheduling. The much-feared "Fair Scheduling Act of 2015," AB 357, based upon the recent San Francisco Retail Workers' Bill of Rights, was held in the Assembly and ordered inactive in June. Watch for its provisions to reappear in 2016.

OT Exemption. AB 1470 was held in the Assembly at the author's election. It would have established a rebuttable presumption that employees with gross annual compensation of $100,000 or greater (at least $1,000 per week paid on a salary or fee basis) who regularly perform any exempt duties of an executive, administrative, or professional employee are exempt from overtime pay.

Double Pay on the Holiday Act of 2015. AB 67, Assembly Member Gonzalez's attempt to require employers to pay employees double pay on Christmas and Thanksgiving, failed passage out of the Assembly. The bill then was ordered to the inactive file by the author.

Workplace Flexibility Act(s) of 2015. AB 1038 would have amended the Labor Code to permit nonexempt employees to request employee-selected flexible work schedules providing for workdays up to 10 hours per day without obligating the employer to pay overtime for those additional hours. The bill did not make it out of its first committee hearing. SB 368 similarly would have allowed a nonexempt employee to request a flexible work schedule up to 10-hour work days, and entitled the employee to overtime for hours worked greater than 10 hours in a work day or 40 hours in a work week.

Voluntary Veterans' Preference Employment Policy Act. AB 1383 would have amended the FEHA to ensure that none of its nondiscrimination provisions affect the hiring decisions of an employer that maintains a veterans' preference employment policy established in accordance with the Voluntary Veterans' Preference Employment Policy Act (Government Code section 12958 et seq.), which this bill would have also created.

Age Information. AB 984, which would have prohibited an employer from using information obtained on a website regarding an employee or applicant's age in making any employment decision regarding that person, failed in committee.

Unfair Immigration-Related Practices. AB 1065 was also held in committee. This bill would have made it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to request more or different documents than are required under federal law relating to verification that an individual is not an unauthorized alien, or to refuse to honor documents tendered that on their face reasonably appear to be genuine, or to attempt to reinvestigate or re-verify an incumbent employee's authorization to work unless required to do so by federal law.

Paid Family Leave Benefit Extension. AB 908 would have required the family temporary disability insurance program to provide up to eight weeks, rather than the existing six weeks, of wage replacement benefits to workers who take time off work to care for specified persons, or to bond with a minor child within one year of the birth or placement of the child. This bill also would have required the weekly benefit amount under this program to be calculated using a specified formula.

Workplace Solutions

Follow our Cal Pecs blog www.calpecs.com for more in-depth analysis of how some of the new legislation may affect employers doing business in California.

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.

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