As in recent years, California remained a hotbed of legislative action in the labor and employment field. The legislature passed several new laws and amended many others in significant ways. With changes taking effect on January 1, 2015, unless otherwise stated below, employers are encouraged to review their policies and practices to ensure compliance. Below is a summary of many of the most notable changes coming in 2015: 

Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 (AB 1522)

  • Mandatory Leaves of Absence. Effective July 1, 2015 the law requires employers to provide paid sick leave to any employee who worked in California for 30 days, at an accrual rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked. The law applies to almost all employers, regardless of size. Penalties may be imposed for noncompliance. The law also adds or amends several sections to the Labor Code, including recordkeeping, notice, and workplace poster requirements. 

Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation Protections

  • Unpaid Interns and Volunteers. AB 1443 prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals in unpaid internships and extends religious belief protections and accommodation requirements to persons in apprenticeships and unpaid internships.
  • Undocumented Persons. AB 1660 prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals who hold or present a driver’s license issued to undocumented persons under AB 60 (certain persons may be issued a license when they submit satisfactory proof of identity and California residency).
  • Immigration. AB 2751 expands unfair immigration-related practices to include threatening or filing a false complaint with any state or federal agency. Current law extended the protection only to reports filed with the police.
  • Medi-Cal Recipients. AB 1792 prohibits employers from: (1) discharging, discriminating, or retaliating against an employee who enrolls in Medi-Cal; (2) refusing to hire a beneficiary of Medi-Cal; or (3) disclosing to any person that an employee receives Medi-Cal, unless authorized by state or federal law. 
  • Abusive Conduct Training. AB 2053 requires covered employers (those with more than 50 employees) to include a component on the prevention of “abusive conduct” to their mandatory sexual harassment prevention training requirement, beginning January 1, 2015.
  • Farm Labor Contractors. SB 1087 prohibits the Labor Commissioner from issuing a “farm labor contractors” (FLC) license to any person who, within the preceding three years 1) has been found to have committed sexual harassment of an employee or 2) has employed a supervisory employee he/she knew or should have known had been found to have sexually harassed an employee.

Wage and Hour Protections

  • Contractors. AB 1897 imposes liability on employers who contract for labor. “Client employers” may now share liability where a labor contractor fails to pay its workers or  provide workers’ compensation coverage.
  • Heat Illness Regulations. SB 1360 confirms that recovery periods that are taken pursuant to heat illness regulations are paid breaks and count as hours worked.
  • Waiting Time Penalties. AB 1723 authorizes the Labor Commissioner to include waiting time penalties in commissioner-initiated citations for failure to pay minimum wage.
  • Liquidated Damages. AB 2074 counters recent court cases limiting liquidated damages claims to a one-year statute of limitations. The law clarifies that persons may file lawsuits seeking to recover liquidated damages for minimum wage violations within three years.
  • Prevailing Wages. Several bills were enacted, including AB 26, AB 1870, AB 1939, AB 2272, AB 2744 and SB 266.
  • Child Labor Protection Act of 2014 (AB 2288). Provides: penalties for violations regarding employment of minors, tolling of claims until the minor is 18 years of age, and treble damages for iindividuals discriminated or retaliated against because they filed a claim alleging a child labor violation.
  • Foreign Labor Contractors (SB 477). Requires foreign labor contractors to meet registration, licensing and bonding requirements by July 1, 2016. California employers who use foreign labor contractors must use contractors registered with the Labor Commissioner, disclose which employees are working with the contractor and consent to California’s jurisdiction for suits. 

Background Checks

  • Criminal History Information (AB 1650). State contractors performing on-site construction-related services must certify that they will not ask job applicants to disclose information concerning criminal history at the time of an initial employment application.
  • Services to Minors (AB 1852). Businesses that provide specified services to minors must provide a written notice to the parent/guardian of the minor receiving those services, ideally addressing the business’s policies relating to employee criminal background checks.

Workplace Safety

  • Safety Hazards. The Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) issues citations to employers deemed to be in violation of safety-related laws. Citations identify a period to abate/fix the alleged violation. Employers may appeal the citation and previously had no requirement to fix the violation while the appeal was pending. AB 1634 effectively prohibits the DOSH from modifying civil penalties for abatement unless the employer has fixed the violation.
  • Injury Reporting (AB 326). Allows employers to e-mail reports of a work-related serious injury, illness or death to the DOSH, amends telephone or telegraph reporting requirement.
  • Many of these new regulations expand the scope of risk for employers, and require new workplace postings or changes to existing workplace policies. We recommend that all California employers consult with experienced employment counsel to ensure compliance going into 2015. An ounce of prevention is always worth it.

Happy New Year.