Our readers will be happy to see the end of 2014, from an employment law point of view. With the exception of the Iskanian case, in which the California Supremes finally agreed that most workplace disputes can be subject to mandatory arbitration, employers had little to cheer about. This past year the Golden State brought us a new crop of employee entitlements—also known as employer mandates—requiring significant changes in how companies hire, schedule labor, monitor hours of work, and give employees time off.
Clothed in the language of worker rights and positive societal goals (e.g., the “Healthy Workplaces/Healthy Families Act”), the new laws increasingly cover areas that traditionally have been the subject of collective bargaining (e.g., mandatory paid time off and rates of pay). There is also a trend toward preventing job loss that might result from personal life circumstances, such as requiring paid time off for an employee to seek help for domestic violence, and forbidding questions about an applicant’s criminal or credit history. In short, government protectionism is alive and well in California.
What were the biggest headlines of the year? Let’s focus on three:
Mandatory Paid Sick Leave. Hands-down, the topic of most client calls during the past three months has been the new state paid sick leave law. As everyone by now must know, the California Legislature has followed the lead of various California cities to mandate paid time off for the illness and health care of employees and their family members. And this benefit is also available for employees to respond to situations of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The annual requirement of three days of paid time is actually quite modest, and many employers already provide paid leave of one sort or another that would cover the new entitlement. But the law also imposes onerous recordkeeping and reporting rules.
Municipal, And Especially Bay Area, Ordinances. If California generally overprotects employees, the Bay Area in particular has practically wrapped them in swaddling clothes. The latest rash of employment-related ordinances from San Francisco and Oakland includes a law that will require retailers to offer hours to current part-time workers before offering them to new hires. San Francisco has long had a mandatory paid sick leave law that is more protective than California’s, but, as of March 1, Oakland will go one step further. The Bright Side of the Bay will preclude employers from funding mandated increases in paid sick time benefits by reducing “vacation or other non-wage benefits.” So if an Oakland employer already gives its employees PTO, that voluntary, employer-provided perk cannot be reduced to offset the new burdens of the Oakland ordinance. San Diego, meanwhile, is another employee-friendly jurisdiction that bears watching, though we don’t expect any further activity there until June 2016, when recent paid sick leave and minimum wage proposals will be submitted to the voters.
Seemingly Small, But Actually Significant, Changes to Wage-Hour Rules. Our new wage-hour laws range from a statutory civil penalty for failure to provide outdoor workers a needed cool-down recovery period, to judicial clarification of details relating to hourly pay for piece-rate workers and certain commissioned workers. Plus, the California Court of Appeal, in a decision the Supreme Court left undisturbed, has opined that employers must pay a reasonable portion of an employee’s personal cell phone charges when the employer requires use of that phone for work. Add to this the Labor Commissioner’s new “Wage Theft Is a Crime” campaign, announced on April 30, 2014, and what do you get? A need for more training and recordkeeping, and an awareness that there are yet more potential liabilities for employers.
Despite this year’s changes in the law, California for many remains a pretty nice place to live and work.