Were you able to keep track of the new legislative changes that will affect California employers and employment lawyers? Don’t worry, we did and here’s an overview of some of the key statutory changes you need to know about.
- In a historic move, California extends overtime protections to farmworkers.
Farmworkers in the nation’s largest agricultural state can finally look forward to the same overtime protections most other hourly workers enjoy. The new law, which will be phased in over four years beginning in 2019, is the first of its kind in the nation and will end the 80-year-old practice of applying separate labor rules to agricultural workers. See Lab C §§857, 554(a), added and as amended by Stats. 2016, ch 313, AB 1066 (effective January 1, 2017).
- Equal pay for equal work, update: Prior salary can’t alone justify compensation disparity.
When employers make salary decisions during the hiring process based on prospective employees’ prior salaries or require women to disclose their prior salaries during salary negotiations, women often end up at a sharp disadvantage, especially if they’re returning to the workplace following extended time off. The result: Historical disparities in pay between men and women get perpetuated. An amendment to the Fair Pay Act addresses this issue by not allowing employers to use prior salary, by itself, to justify disparity in compensation. See Lab C §1197.5, as amended by Stats. 2016, ch 856, AB 1676 (effective January 1, 2017).
- Equal pay for equal work, part 2: Now reaching pay disparity based on race and ethnicity.
The Legislature took the next logical step toward the goal of equal pay for equal work with another amendment to the Fair Pay Act. The law will prohibit employers from paying their employees for substantially similar work at wage rates less than those paid to employees who are of another race or ethnicity. See Lab C §1197.5, as amended by Stats. 2016, ch 866, SB 1063 (effective January 1, 2017).
- Verifying immigration documents can cross the line to being unlawful.
A clear message was sent to employers: Don’t push it when verifying immigration documentation. Starting January 1, 2017, employers can’t request more or different documents than required under federal law to verify employment eligibility. They also can’t refuse to honor documents that on their face reasonably appear to be genuine or reinvestigate or reverify an incumbent employee’s authorization to work. The penalty for violating these provisions can be up to a hefty $10,000. Lab C §1019.1, added by Stats. 2016, ch 782, SB 1001 (effective January 1, 2017).
- Personal attendant protections are here to stay.
In 2014, the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights made changes to regulate the work hours and provide the overtime compensation rate for domestic employees who are personal attendants. This law was set to expire on January 1, 2017, but in a good turn for these workers, the expiration clause is gone and the changes are permanent. Lab C §1453, repealed by Stats. 2016, ch 315, SB 1015 (effective January 1, 2017).
- Juvenile criminals will get a clean slate on the job market.
Soon a job applicant’s juvenile criminal history won’t come back to haunt him or her. Starting January 1, 2017, employers can’t ask job applicants for information on juvenile criminal history or use that history as a factor in determining any condition of employment. See Lab C §432.7, as amended by Stats. 2016, ch 686, AB 1843 (effective January 1, 2017).
- Minimum wage is adjusting up and up.
The statewide minimum wage is going up over the next couple of years: Starting January 1, 2017, it will be increased to $10.50 per hour for employers with 25 or more employees; starting January 1, 2018, it goes up to $11 per hour for those employers. Employers with fewer than 25 employees will get these increases a year later, i.e., $10.50 per hour in 2018 and $11 per hour in 2019. See Lab C §§245.5, 246, 1182.12, as amended by Stats. 2016, ch 4, SB 3 (effective January 1, 2017).
- PAGA got some tinkering.
Effective January 1, 2017, the Legislature has made a few modifications to the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA), the law that deputizes employees suffering Labor Code violations in the workplace to act on behalf of other employees and the State of California. Among those changes: (1) mandatory online filing of notices and other court documents with the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA); (2) a new $75 filing fee; (3) more time for the LWDA to respond; and (4) all PAGA settlements will be subject to court approval. See Lab C §2699.3, as amended by Stats. 2016, ch 31, SB 836 (effective January 1, 2017).
- What happens in California, stays in California.
One contract area where the employee has been at the mercy of the employer is choice of law and forum. But soon employers won’t be able to hold this over employees anymore. A new law prohibits employers from requiring employees who primarily reside and work in California to agree to adjudicate claims against the employer somewhere other than California or to agree to apply law other than California’s to their employment disputes. A contract provision that violates this law is voidable by the employee, unless he or she negotiated the contract through counsel. Adding some teeth to it, employees enforcing rights under this new law are entitled to reasonable attorney fees, in addition to injunctive relief and any other available remedies. See Lab C §925, added by Stats. 2016, ch 632, SB 1241 (effective January 1, 2017).
- Don’t smoke ’em if you got ’em.
Smoking has been illegal in enclosed workplaces in California since 1997, with a few minor exceptions. Most of those exceptions are now gone like the proverbial puff of smoke. The smoking ban now extends to owner-operated businesses, hotel lobbies, banquet rooms, warehouse facilities, and employee break rooms. See Lab C §6404.5, as amended by Stats. 2016, 2d Ex Sess ch 7, AB 7 (operative June 9, 2016).
Get more details on all of these statutory developments as well as others in the featured article of the November issue of CEB’s California Business Law Reporter. To keep up with all developments in employment law, subscribe to CEB’s OnLAW® Employment Law Library — a virtual encyclopedia of employment law. And don’t miss CEB’s upcoming live program Employment Law Practice: 2016 Year in Review in various locations (and Livecast) starting on January 20, 2017.
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