United States: 2017 Labor & Employment Legislative Update: The End Is Near!

Seyfarth Synopsis: Governor Jerry Brown has till October 15 to approve bills the Legislature sent to his desk by its Friday, September 15, deadline, including bills that would require employers to "show us the money" for certain employees and to make "mum be the word" for an applicant's past conviction history.

The 2017 California Legislative Session kicked off on January 4, 2017, with lawmakers introducing over 2,200 bills. Of the many employment-related bills introduced, only a small handful made the Legislative cut. But some, addressed below, could have significant impacts on employers. Will the Governor sign or veto these possible new California peculiarities? We'll know by his October 15 signing deadline. (Wondering what bills did not make the cut? We'll include those in our post-October 15 wrap-up.)

Gender Pay Gap Transparency Act. AB 1209—called by some the "public shaming of California employers" bill—would require employers with at least 500 California employees to, beginning July 1, 2019, collect information on differences in pay between male and female exempt employees, by job classification and title, and male and female Board members. The bill would require employers submit the information to the California Secretary of State by July 1, 2020, in a form consistent with Labor Code § 1197.5 (California's fair pay statute), and, to provide an update to the Secretary every two years. The bill would require the Secretary to publish the information on a public website if the Legislature provides it with sufficient funding. For more detail, click through to our in-depth analysis on AB 1209.

Salary Inquiry Ban. AB 168 would prohibit employers from relying on an applicant's salary history when deciding whether to offer employment and what salary to offer, and from seeking an applicant's salary history. The bill expressly authorizes employers, in setting pay, to consider salary history that an applicant discloses voluntarily and without prompting, but repeals Labor Code § 1197.5's prohibition against using salary history by itself to justify a disparity in pay. The bill would require an employer to provide a job applicant with the position's pay scale upon reasonable request. The bill would apply to all employers but not to salary information available to the public pursuant to the California Public Records Act or the Freedom of Information Act. This bill comes on the heels of last year's fair pay legislation AB 1676 and Governor Brown's veto of AB 1017 (last year's bill to prohibit salary history inquiries), which veto (he explained) was an effort to give SB 358 (the Fair Pay Act) a chance to work. The new bill also follows in the footsteps of similar legislation in San Francisco, New York City, Philadelphia (stayed pending legal challenge), Delaware, Puerto Rico, Oregon and Massachusetts.

Prior Conviction History of Applicants. AB 1008, dubbed the "Scarlet Letter Act," by Assembly Member Kevin McCarty on the Assembly Floor, would repeal existing Labor Code § 432.9 and add a section to the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which would prohibit an employer with five or more employees from (1) including on any employment application a question seeking disclosure of a job applicant's conviction history, (2) inquiring into or considering an applicant's conviction history until after extending a conditional offer of employment, and (3) while conducting a conviction history background check in connection with an employment application, considering, distributing, or disseminating information related to (a) certain arrests not followed by a conviction, (b) referral to or participation in a pretrial or post trial diversion program, and (c) convictions that have been sealed, dismissed, expunged, or statutorily eradicated.

As to an employer that intends to deny employment to a job applicant because of the applicant's conviction history, this bill would also require the employer to:

  • Make an individualized assessment of whether the conviction history has a direct and adverse relationship with the specific duties of the job—considering the nature and gravity of the offense, the time passed since the offense and completion of the sentence, and the nature of the job held or sought.
  • Notify the applicant in writing of a preliminary decision to deny employment based on that individualized assessment, including disqualifying convictions forming the basis for rescission of the employment offer, a copy of the applicant's conviction history report, and explanation of the applicant's right to respond to the preliminary decision before it is final.
  • Allow the applicant specified periods of time to respond, then consider information submitted by the applicant before making a final decision, and then notify the applicant in writing of the final denial or disqualification, of any existing procedure the employer has for the applicant to challenge the decision, and of the right to file a complaint with the DFEH.

The bill's provisions would not apply to positions with criminal justice agencies, state or local agencies required to conduct background checks, farm labor contractors, and employers required by state, federal, or local law to conduct background checks or restrict employment based on criminal history. The bill would also repeal (because this section would replace) a Labor Code provision prohibiting state or local agencies from asking an applicant for employment to disclose conviction history information.

Reproductive Health. AB 569 would add a provision to the Labor Code prohibiting an employer from taking adverse employment action against an employee or the employee's dependents or family members for their reproductive health decisions, including the use of any drug, device, or medical service (e.g., birth control, abortions, or in vitro fertilization). An employer that violates this prohibition would be subject to penalties under Labor Code § 98.6, as well as reinstatement, reimbursement of lost wages and interest, and other appropriate compensation or equitable relief. This bill would prohibit employers from attempting to contract out of these requirements, by making null and void any express or implied agreement waiving these requirements. The bill would require employers to include a notice of these employee rights and remedies in its handbook.

This bill is the Legislature's response to the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC, to provide employees of religiously affiliated institutions the same benefits and protections as other California employees, unless the employee is the functional equivalent of minister, subject to a "ministerial exception" as developed in First Amendment case law. The Legislature agrees with Justice Alito, in his concurring opinion, that the ministerial exception should apply only to an "employee who leads a religious organization, conducts worship services or important religious ceremonies or rituals, or serves as a messenger or teacher of its faith." Supporters of this bill cite cases of employees being fired for getting pregnant while unmarried. The bill's author, Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, stated on the Assembly floor that this bill "[is] an issue of basic health, privacy and worker rights." The bill expressly states that it supplements, and does not limit, any right or remedy available under FEHA.

New Parent Leave Act and Parental Leave DFEH Mediation Pilot Program SB 63, the "New Parent Leave Act" would—through a new section added to the California Family Rights Act—extend CFRA's protections to smaller employers (with at least 20 employees within 75 miles). The bill would prohibit those employers from refusing to allow employees with more than 12 months and at least 1,250 hours of service to take up to 12 weeks of parental leave to bond with a new child within one year of the child's birth, adoption, or foster care placement. The bill would provide that an employer employing both parents who both are entitled to leave for the same child need not give more than 12 weeks of leave total to the employees (which may be granted simultaneously if the employer chooses). Further, an employer would be able to recover the costs of maintaining the health plan for employees who decide not to return to work after their leave exhausts because of a reason other than a serious health condition or other circumstances beyond the employee's control.

SB 63 would also require the DFEH, when it receives funding from the Legislature, to create a parental leave mediation pilot program under which an employer may request all parties to participate in mediation within 60 days of receiving a right-to-sue notice. The bill would prohibit an employee from pursuing any civil action under these provisions (and toll the statute of limitations) until the mediation is complete. The mediation is considered complete when either party elects not to participate or withdraws from mediation, or notifies the DFEH that further mediation would be fruitless.

Retaliation: Expanding The Labor Commissioner's Authority. SB 306 would authorize the DLSE to investigate an employer, with or without a complaint being filed, when retaliation or discrimination is suspected during a wage claim or other investigation being conducted by the Labor Commissioner. If the Labor Commissioner finds reasonable cause to believe a violation has occurred, the Labor Commissioner may seek injunctive relief. The bill would also allow an employee bringing a retaliation claim to seek injunctive relief upon showing that reasonable cause exists to believe the employee has been subject to adverse action for bringing the claim. The bill would provide that the injunctive relief would not prohibit an employer from disciplining or firing an employee for conduct that is unrelated to the retaliation claim. The bill would also authorize the Labor Commissioner to issue citations directing specific relief to persons determined to be responsible for violations and to create certain procedural requirements for such.

Immigration: Worksite Enforcement Actions. AB 450, known as the "Immigrant Worker Protection Act," would prohibit employers from allowing immigration enforcement agents to have access to non-public areas of a workplace, absent a judicial warrant, and would prohibit immigration enforcement agents to access, review, or obtain employee records without a subpoena or court order, subject to a specified exception. This bill would also:

  • Require an employer to provide current employees with notices of an immigration agency's inspection of I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms or other employment records within 72 hours of receiving the federal notice of inspection—using a template created by the Labor Commissioner.
  • Require an employer to provide affected employees (meaning employees who may lack work authorization or whose documents have deficiencies) a copy of the Notice of Inspection of I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms, upon reasonable request.
  • Require employers to provide to affected current employees, and to an employee's authorized representative, a copy of the immigration agency notice that provides for the inspection results and written notice of the obligations of the employer and the affected employee arising from the action.
  • Grant exclusive authority to the Labor Commissioner or Attorney General to enforce the provisions of this bill and require that any penalty recovered be deposited in the Labor Enforcement and Compliance Fund.
  • Prescribe penalties for failure to satisfy the bill's prohibitions and for failure to provide the required notices of $2,000 up to $5,000 for a first violation, and $5,000 up to $10,000 for each further violation.
  • Prohibit an employer from re-verifying the employment eligibility of a current employee at a time or in a manner not required by federal law, and authorize the Labor Commission to recover up to a $10,000 penalty for each violation.

Employee Request: Injury and Illness Prevention Program. AB 978 would require an employer to provide a copy—free of charge—to an employee, or to the employee's representative, of the company's injury prevention program within 10 days of a written request. A representative would include a recognized or certified collective bargaining agent, an attorney, a health and safety professional, a nonprofit organization advocate, or an immediate family member. The bill would allow the employer to take reasonable steps to verify the identity of the person making the written request. The bill would authorize an employer to assert impossibility of performance as an affirmative defense in any complaint alleging a violation of these new provisions.

Stay Tuned ... check back for a full breakdown of this year's legislative bills coming after the Governor's October 15th deadline.

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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Melissa Aristizabal
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