Companies across the nation are facing 2016 with a mix of enthusiasm and anxiety as they attempt to meet their business and financial goals. For those doing business in California, those benchmarks are only one of the many challenges they face. California employers are confronted with the additional task of effectively navigating a host of new labor and employment laws that will impact the way they compensate and manage their workforce. The following summarizes some of the new California employment laws that went into effect this year:

Expansion of Wage Equality Protection. Senate Bill 358, signed into law in October 2015, amends the California Fair Pay Act to expand protections against gender-based wage inequality. Under the law, which went into effect January 1, 2016, an employer may not pay employees less than what it pays employees of the opposite sex for “substantially similar” work, unless the employer can affirmatively demonstrate the difference is based on certain defined factors. The new law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the new law. Further, the burden of proof is now on the employer to show any wage differential is not gender based.

Senior Management May Be Individually Liable for Wage and Hour Violations.Senate Bill 588 now gives the Labor Commissioner the authority to collect on judgments for non-payment of wages, which includes levying employers’ bank accounts. What is most significant about this new law, however, is the fact it provides “[a]n employer or other person acting on behalf of an employer, who violates, or causes to be violated, any provision regulating minimum wages or hours and days of work . . . may be held liable as the employer for such violation.” As written, this appears to result in potential personal liability for senior management.

Requesting an Accommodation Based on Religion or Disability Can Now Form the Basis of a Retaliation Claim. Assembly Bill 987 overturns the holding in Rope v. Auto-Chlor System of Washington, Inc., 220 Cal. App. 635 (2013) and now makes it unlawful for an employer to take adverse action against an employee (i.e., discipline or terminate) for merely requesting an accommodation based on his or her religion or disability. Rope held that a request for an accommodation for the above purposes did not constitute “protected activity” under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (the FEHA), because it did not oppose conduct forbidden by the FEHA.

California Paid Sick Leave Law Clarified. California Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act (the Act) was passed into law in 2014. The Act requires employers, regardless of size, to provide employees with at least three days or 24 hours of paid sick leave based on an accrual or a front-load method. Assembly Bill 304 clarifies several ambiguities in the law, including the Act’s impact on existing paid time off policies (which combine vacation and sick pay leaves), the appropriate way to calculate the sick leave rate, and the Act’s accrual and reinstatement provisions.

To ensure compliance with California’s new employment laws, companies that do business in California should engage experienced California employment counsel to review their employment policies and provide training to management on how to appropriately respond to employee inquiries that implicate these new legal requirements.