Executive Summary: Last week marked the official start of the holiday season. As we're now racing towards the end of the year, and getting ready for parties, gifts, and, perhaps, (ugh!) holiday travel, employers also should be getting ready to implement policies to comply with a number of new California laws that are expected to go into effect in 2015. The new laws cover a wide range of areas in employment, including leaves of absences, discrimination, and wage and hour issues. Below is a brief overview of twelve of the most notable new laws affecting businesses in the Golden State. They include:

  • Mandatory Paid Sick Leave – AB 1522 – The Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 (HWHFA) requires employers to provide employees with a minimum of 24 hours of paid sick leave per year. As discussed in our November 24, 2014 and October 21, 2014 alerts, HWHFA is a complex law that will require employers to make changes not only to their existing leave or paid time off policies, but also to their payroll, recordkeeping and notice procedures. The new law also seeks to complement existing California city paid sick leave laws. These new notice requirements include requirements to issue written notices every pay period regarding an employee's existing paid sick leave balances and a poster explaining the new law that must be displayed at all worksites. Clients should be aware that while accrual of paid sick leave goes into effect on July 1, 2015, the notice and posting requirements go into effect on January 1, 2015.
  • Expanded Coverage for Emergency Duty Leave – AB 2536 – California protects employees from discipline or discharge for taking time off for performing emergency services as volunteer firefighters, reserve peace officers or emergency rescue personnel. However, the state previously limited the definition of "emergency rescue personnel" to those providing emergency services in government agencies, sheriff's departments, police departments or private fire departments. The new law now expands the definition of "emergency rescue personnel" to include those providing emergency services as part of a disaster medical response entity sponsored or requested by the state.
  • Expansion of Definition of Individuals Protected from Harassment and Discrimination – AB 1443, AB1660, AB 1792 – California has now added a number of categories of persons protected from harassment and discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), including unpaid interns and volunteers, persons holding a driver's license issued to an undocumented person (otherwise known as an "AB 60 driver's license"), and employees receiving public assistance as defined under Medi-Cal.
  • New Harassment Prevention Training Requirements – AB 2053 – Previously, California law required any employer with 50 or more employees to provide at least 2 hours of training and education regarding sexual harassment to all supervisors once every 2 years. Under the new law, all employers subject to the mandatory sexual harassment prevention training requirement for supervisors must now also include a component within the training concerning the prevention of "abusive conduct," as defined under the new law.
  • Extended Liability for Companies Using Contract Labor/Staffing Companies– AB 1897 – As discussed in our October 13, 2014, and December 2, 2014alerts, under AB 1897, a company will have legal responsibility and civil liability for the wage-and-hour violations of labor contracting companies/staffing agencies with respect to the workers supplied by those companies to the business. The new law also makes contracting businesses responsible if the labor contractor/staffing agency fails to provide workers' compensation coverage. Liability will be imposed regardless of whether the business had knowledge of the purported violations, or whether the business and labor contractor/staffing agency are joint employers.
  • Clarification Regarding Heat Breaks – SB 1360 – Last year saw the passage of a bill that amended the California Labor Code to include penalties for employers who fail to provide heat-related recovery periods, as defined under California's Heat Illness Prevention Statute (8 Cal. Code Reg. § 3395(d)). The new law now clarifies that the recovery periods are paid breaks and count as hours worked.
  • Waiting Time Penalties Recoverable by California Labor Commissioner – AB 1723 – Previously, the law permitted the Labor Commissioner to seek a civil penalty, restitution and liquidated damages against an employer who pays less than the minimum wage. The law now authorizes the Labor Commissioner to also recover any applicable penalties for an employer's willful failure to timely pay wages (also called "waiting time" or "Section 203" penalties).
  • New Statute of Limitations for Liquidated Damages for Failure to Pay Minimum Wage – AB 2074 – Previous law required that a lawsuit to recover liquidated damages for minimum wage violations under California Labor Code § 1194.2 be filed within one year of the alleged violation. The new law amends Section 1194.2 to extend the statute of limitations period to three years.
  • Workplace Safety Reports Can be E-mailed – AB 326 – California now allows employers to e-mail their reports of a work-related serious injury, illness or death to the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA).
  • Conformance of California's Waiting Periods for Health Care Coverage – SB 1034 – Given the passage of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("ACA"), the amendment conforms certain provisions of the state's Health and Safety Code and Insurance Code and clarifies that any employer-imposed waiting periods are governed by the 90-day period authorized under the ACA.

The California State Legislature also gave employers a preview of laws to come. Two notable new laws include:

  • Physician Assistants Certifying an Employee's Disability for Unemployment Insurance– SB 1083 – Starting January 1, 2017, the state will allow physician assistants to certify an employee's disability in order to obtain unemployment insurance benefits.
  • Workplace Violence Prevention Plan for Hospitals – SB 1299 – By January 1, 2016, Cal/OSHA must adopt standards that require specified types of hospitals to adopt workplace violence prevention plans as part of the hospitals' injury and illness prevention plans.