If only the Beatles’ call to “Let it Be” was heard by the California Legislature. Instead, employer regulation is on the rise again. In 2014, 574 bills introduced mentioned “employer,” compared to 186 in 2013. Most of those 500-plus bills did not pass, and several that did pass were not signed into law by the governor. One veto blocked a bill that would have penalized employers for limiting job prospects of, or discriminating against, job applicants who aren’t currently employed.

A sampling of significant new laws affecting private employers, effective Jan. 1, 2015, unless otherwise mentioned, follows.

Shared Liability for Employers Who Use Labor Contractors

AB 1897 mandates that companies provided with workers from a labor contractor to perform labor within its “usual course of business” at its premises or worksite will “share with the labor contractor all civil legal responsibility and civil liability” for the labor contractor’s failure to pay wages required by law or secure valid workers compensation insurance, for the workers supplied.

The law applies regardless of whether the company knew about the violations and whether the company hiring the labor contractor (recast by the new law as a “client employer”) and labor contractor are deemed joint employers. This liability sharing is in addition to any other theories of liability or requirements established by statutes or common law.

The client employer will not, however, share liability under this new law if it has a workforce of less than 25 employees (including those obtained through the labor contractor), or is supplied by the labor contractor with five or fewer workers at any given time.

A labor contractor is defined as an individual or entity that supplies, either with or without a contract, a client employer with workers to perform labor within the client employer’s usual course of business, unless the specific labor falls under the exclusion clause in AB 1897. Excluded are bona fide nonprofits, bona fide labor organizations, apprenticeship programs, hiring halls operated pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement, motion picture payroll services companies and certain employee leasing arrangements that contractually obligate the client employer to assume all civil legal responsibility and civil liability for securing workers’ compensation insurance.

This bill is a significant expansion of existing law—which is limited to prohibiting employers from entering into a contract for labor or services with a construction, farm labor, garment, janitorial, security guard or warehouse contractor—if the employer knows or should know that the agreement does not include sufficient funds.

In light of the new law, labor services contractor engagements should be evaluated with an eye toward limiting the risk of retaining non-compliant contractors, including indemnity, insurance, termination provisions and compliance verification protocols.

Wage and Hour Changes

California’s $9 hourly minimum wage is due to increase to $10 Jan. 1, 2016. Defeated by the California Legislature, however, was a bill to raise the hourly minimum wage to $11 in 2015, $12 in 2016, $13 in 2017 and then adjust annually for inflation starting in 2018.

Undeterred, several municipalities have increased their respective minimum wage for companies who employ workers in their jurisdiction. For example, employees who work in San Francisco more than two hours per week, including part-time and temporary workers, are entitled to the San Francisco hourly minimum wage, which increased Jan. 1 from $10.74 to $11.05 and will increase to $12.25 by May 1. Hourly minimum wages also increased Jan. 1 in San Jose ($10.30).

The minimum wage will increase in Oakland March 2 ($12.25) and in Berkeley Oct. 1 ($11). Many other cities have either enacted, or have pending, minimum wage laws.

Federal minimum wage continues to lag behind California, but no longer for federal contractors. President Obama issued Executive Order 13658 in 2014 which established that workers under federal contracts must be paid at least $10.10 per hour. This applies to new contracts and replacements for expiring federal contracts that resulted from solicitations issued on or after Jan. 1, 2015, or to contracts that were awarded outside the solicitation process on or after Jan. 1, 2015. There are prevailing wage requirements for many state and local government and agency contractors as well.

Employers should monitor each of the requirements, including those in the jurisdiction in which they do business, to assure compliance.

Paid Sick Days Now Required

Effective July 1, AB 1522 is the first statewide law that requires employers to provide paid sick days to employees. The new law grants employees, who worked at least 30 days since the commencement of their employment, the right to accrue one hour of paid sick time off for each 30 hours worked—up to 24 hours (three days) in a year of employment. Exempt employees are presumed to work a 40-hour normal workweek; but, if their normal workweek is less, the lower amount could be used for accrual purposes.

An employer may cap accrual at 48 hours (six days) and also may limit the use of paid sick days in a year to 24 hours. Unused paid sick days normally carry-over from year to year, though no carry-over is required if 24 hours of paid sick days is accrued to the employee at the beginning of a year. No payout is required at termination of employment.

The paid sick days may be used for the employee’s own health condition or preventative care; a family member’s health condition or preventative care; if the employee is a victim of domestic assault or sexual violence; and stalking. “Family member” means a child, regardless of age or dependency (including adopted, foster, step or legal ward), parent (biological, adoptive, foster, step, in-law or registered domestic partner’s parent), spouse, registered domestic partner, grandparent, grandchild or siblings.

The law applies to all employers, regardless of size, except for a few categories of employees that are not covered—such as those governed by a collective bargaining agreement that contains certain provisions, in-home supportive services providers and certain air carrier personnel.

Employers must keep records for at least three years, a new workplace poster is required and employers are barred from retaliating against employees who assert rights under this new law.

Failure of an employer to comply with AB 1522 can result in significant monetary fines and penalties in addition to pay for the sick days withheld, reinstatement and back pay if employment was ended, and attorneys fees and costs.

Employers should beware to integrate city specific paid sick leave laws with the new state law. For example, the pre-existing San Francisco paid sick day law has some provisions that are similar and some that are different from AB 1522. As a general rule, where multiple laws afford employee rights on a common topic, the employee is entitled to the law benefits that favors the employee most.

Discrimination Law and Training Requirements Expanded

AB 1443 amends the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) to make its anti-discrimination, anti-harassment and religious accommodation provisions apply to unpaid interns. It also amends FEHA’s anti-harassment, and religious belief or observance accommodation provisions, to apply to volunteers. This new law appears to respond to, and trump, courts that have not classified these workers as employees and, in turn, found them not eligible for legal protections afforded to employees.

Prior law requires the California Department of Motor Vehicles to commence issuing special drivers licenses in January to applicants who meet other requirements to obtain a license, but cannot submit satisfactory proof of lawful presence in the United States. AB 1660 amends FEHA to prohibit discrimination against holders of these special drivers licenses; adverse action by an employer because an employee or applicant holds a special license can be a form of national origin discrimination. Employer compliance with any requirement or prohibition of federal immigration law is not a violation of FEHA.

Since 2006, employers of 50 or more employees have been required to provide supervisors with two hours of classroom or other effective interactive anti-sexual harassment training, every two years. New supervisors are to receive the training within six months after they start a supervisory position. This is commonly known as “AB 1825” training.

In apparent response to societal concerns about the impacts of bullying in general, AB 2053 requires that AB 1825 training include a component on abusive conduct prevention. Under the new law, abusive conduct means “conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests.

Abusive conduct may include repeated infliction of verbal abuse—such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults and epithets; verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating or humiliating; or the gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance. A single act shall not constitute abusive conduct, unless especially severe and egregious.”

The new law does not make abusive conduct unlawful in and of itself, but it’s common for plaintiffs’ counsel to try, in attempts to win cases, to tether abusive behavior by a supervisor to conduct that is alleged to be unlawful.

SB 1087 requires farm labor contractors to provide sexual harassment prevention and complaint process training annually to supervisory employees and at the time of hire and each two years thereafter to non-supervisory employees. The new law also blocks state licensing of farm labor contractors who have been found by a court or administrative agency to have engaged in sexual harassment in the past three years, or who knew— or should have known—that a supervisor had been found by a court or administrative agency to have engaged in sexual harassment in the past three years.

Child Labor Laws Enhanced

AB 2288, the Child Labor Protection Act of 2014, accomplishes three things.

  1. It confirms existing law that “tolls” or suspends the running of statutes of limitation on a minor’s claims for unlawful employment practices until the minor reaches the age of 18.
  2. Treble damages are now available—in addition to other remedies—to an individual who is discharged, threatened with discharge, demoted, suspended, retaliated or discriminated against, or subjected to adverse action in the terms or conditions employment because the individual filed a claim or civil action alleging a violation of the Labor Code that arose while the individual was a minor.
  3. For Class “A” child labor law violations involving minors at or under the age of 12, the required range of civil penalties increases to $25,000 to $50,000. Class A violations include employing certain minors in dangerous or prohibited occupations under the Labor Code, acting unlawfully or under conditions that present an imminent danger to the minor employee, and three or more violations of child work permit or hours requirements.

Immigration and Retaliation

Several new California laws involving immigration issues surfaced last year. All were premised on existing law that all workers are entitled to the rights and protections of state employment law regardless of immigration status, and that employers must not leverage immigration status against applicants, employees or their families.

This year, AB 2751 adds to and clarifies these existing laws.

For example, actionable “unfair immigration- related practices” now include threatening or filing a false report to any government agency. The bill also clarifies that a court has authority to order the suspension of business licenses of an offending employer to block otherwise lawful operations at worksites where the offenses occurred.

What’s Next?

Employers should consider how these new laws impact their workplaces, and then review and update their personnel practices and policies with the advice of experienced attorneys or human resource professionals.

*Originally published by CalCPA in the January/February 2015 issue of California CPA.