Employment Law Legal Topics New Legal Developments

New Year, New Laws for Employment Lawyers

464956543The California legislature has enacted several new laws that will affect every employer and employment lawyer in 2016. Here’s an overview of some of the key statutory changes you need to know about.

  • Equal pay for equal work. The Fair Pay Act is a landmark piece of legislation in the ongoing struggle for fair and equal pay for women. Its goal is to eliminate the well-documented 26 percent pay disparity that exists across the economy between men and women doing the same job. The new law requires equal pay, regardless of gender, for “substantially similar work” and prohibits retaliation against employees who invoke the law and/or discuss wages with their coworkers. See Lab C §1197.5, as amended by Stats. 2015, ch 546, SB 358 (effective January 1, 2016).
  • Legislature comes to the aid of grocery workers. The grocery industry has seen big changes this year with the merger of Safeway and Albertsons, followed by the sale of 146 Safeway and Albertsons stores to the Haggen grocery chain, and then Haggen’s bankruptcy filing and the planned closing of 36 California supermarkets. In comes the legislature to protect grocery workers! When a grocery store changes hands, the successor will have to keep eligible workers for 90 days and then after that period consider offering them continued employment. See Lab C §2500, added by Stats. 2015, ch 212, AB 359 (effective January 1, 2016).
  • Asking for an accommodation is a protected activity, too. Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), an employer must provide reasonable accommodation of an employee’s disability or religious beliefs. Curiously, case law has been split about whether the act of asking the employer for an accommodation was in itself a protected activity. That question is settled. Effective January 1, 2016, FEHA prohibits an employer from retaliating or otherwise discriminating against an employee for requesting accommodation of his or her disability or religious beliefs, regardless of whether the accommodation request was granted. See Govt C §12940(l)(4), as added by Stats. 2015, ch 122, AB 987.
  • Be careful using E-Verify—it could cost you. E-Verify is a voluntary federal system employers may use to verify that the employees they hire are authorized to work in the United States. To curtail misuse of that system, California law will soon prohibit employers from using E-Verify to check the status of an existing employee or an applicant who hasn’t received an offer of employment, except as required by federal law or as a condition of receiving federal funds. This new law carries a hefty civil penalty of up to $10,000 per violation. See Lab C §2814, added by Stats. 2015, ch 696, AB 622 (effective January 1, 2016).
  • I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too. Current law prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee who has engaged in protected conduct, such as complaining about a workplace safety problem. But what about coworkers with a family relationship to the complaining employee—are they fair game? Starting January 1, 2016, they’re definitely not. See Lab C §§98.6(e), 1102.5(h), and 6310(c), as amended by Stats 2015 ch 792, AB 1509.
  • Labor Commissioner’s tool belt gets heavier. Starting January 1, 2016, two new measures will help the Labor Commissioner enforce the law: (1) the Commissioner may enforce local laws on overtime and minimum wages, and issue citations and penalties for violations of those laws as well as the expense reimbursement provisions of Lab C §2802 (see Lab C §§558, 1197, 1197.1, as amended by Stats. 2015, ch 783, AB 970); and (2) the Commissioner will have the enforcement tools of a judgment creditor, including the right to levy bank accounts and other property to recover unpaid wages for employees. See various sections of the Code of Civil Procedure and the Labor Code, as added and amended by Stats. 2015, ch 803, SB 588.
  • Employers get a do-over for certain wage statement violations. Wage statements must include nine items of information, including the beginning and end date of the period for which the employee is being paid and the employer’s name and address. Under a new law, employers who don’t include all of these items on their wage statement get a break: An employee can’t file an action under the Private Attorneys General Act for these omissions without first notifying the employer and giving it a chance to fix the problem by issuing new (and compliant) wage statements for the 3-year period before the notice. See Lab C §§2699, 2699.3, as amended by Stats. 2015, ch 445, AB 1506 (effective October 2, 2015).
  • Paying employees by the piece just got more complicated. Effective January 1, 2016, there will be new requirements for paying piece-rate workers. This will particularly affect agricultural and transportation companies, which have historically compensated employees based on piece-rate and activity-based formulas. Under the new law, employees must be separately compensated for rest and recovery breaks and other “nonproductive” time. (Wage statements have to reflect this time, too.) But employers can satisfy this requirement by paying minimum wage for all hours worked, in addition to any piece rate. Lab C §226.2, added by Stats. 2015, ch 754, AB 1513.
  • Making it a little easier to be a working parent. Most children live in households in which all parents work, and one-third of families with children are headed by single parents. Yet, many parents risk losing their jobs when they face a childcare emergency and they can’t take time off to find childcare or enroll their children in school. A new law allows parents much-needed time off in these situations by broadening California’s Family School Partnership Act. See Lab C §§230.8, 233, as amended by Stats. 2015, ch 802, SB 579 (effective January 1, 2016).
  • Cheerleaders have something to cheer about. California-based professional major and minor league baseball, basketball, football, ice hockey, and soccer teams will soon have to classify and treat cheerleaders who perform during those teams’ exhibitions, events, or games as employees (with all the benefits of employment) and not as independent contractors. See Lab C §2754, added by Stats. 2015, ch 102, AB 202 (effective January 1, 2016).

For more on these and other new statutory developments in employment law, check out the November 2015 issue of the Business Law Reporter. And don’t miss CEB’s program Employment Law Practice: 2015 Year in Review in various Live locations and on Livecast in January 2016.

Check out all of our employment law posts on CEBblog™.

© The Regents of the University of California, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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