As we enter the last quarter of this fiscal year, many employers begin to look ahead to new budgets, new agreements with employee organizations, and new opportunities for agency success.  While looking ahead to consider and weigh priorities and objectives, employers may also want to look back to assess what may have been overlooked in the past year.

With that in mind, employers should consider whether they need to update their personnel rules, policies, and regulations.  The past few years have seen many changes to federal and state employment laws covering a variety of topics.  Some highlights include:

Expanded Leave Rights for Victims of Certain Crimes:  Employers were already prohibited from discharging or discriminating against victims of some serious crimes who took time off to appear as witnesses in court, or against victims of domestic violence or sexual assault who took time off to obtain services.  The California Legislature has now expanded the definition of “victim,” the list of crimes covered, and the types of proceedings a victim could take time off to attend (without necessarily being a witness).  Furthermore, protections given to victims of domestic violence or sexual assault were extended to victims of stalking.

Limitation on the Ability to Ask Applicants About Criminal Convictions: Following a nationwide movement to eliminate the practice of automatically disqualifying convicted criminals from employment, the Legislature passed a bill requiring public employers to determine first if an applicant meets minimum employment qualifications before criminal conviction information may be requested. This requirement does not apply to applicants for certain positions, such as those with a criminal justice agency.  This law goes into effect on July 1, 2014.

Expanded Time Off for Representatives of Recognized Employee Organizations: The Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA) already requires a local public agency to allow a reasonable number of employee representatives time off without loss of compensation or other benefits when they meet and confer with representatives of the employer.  The Legislature has now expanded this requirement to include times where an employee representative testifies or appears in proceedings before PERB and personnel or merit commissions.  Depending on whether similar provisions exist in memoranda of understanding, employers may need to address this issue in their personnel rules.

Expanded Protections Against Retaliation: The Legislature passed several bills that went into effect the first of this year expanding protections for employees who exercise their rights in a variety of activities.  These protected employee activities include updating personal information related to immigration status, making claims for unpaid wages, and whistleblowing.  Retaliation against whistleblowing extends to anyone acting on the employer’s behalf, and also covers whistleblowing on violations of local rules and regulations.  Further, whistleblowers need not exhaust any administrative remedies before filing a claim for retaliation in court.

Some New Laws Apply Only to Certain Employers: Some changes in the law affect only certain employers, and often are not as widely publicized.  For example:

  • agencies with reserve peace officers and emergency rescue personnel must now provide up to 14 days off per year for training and may not discriminate against or subject those employees to adverse employment action for taking such leave;
  • agencies who elect to receive coverage under the Employment Development Department’s State Disability Insurance and Paid Family Leave benefits will be affected starting July 1, 2014, by an expansion of the paid family leave benefit program to include care of a grandparent, grandchild, sibling or parent-in-law;
  • municipal water districts should revise their election policies and procedures to conform to the new requirement that elected officers take office on the first Friday in December following their election (instead of January).

Updated Regulations for Pregnancy Disability Leave Law and Family Medical Leave Act:  At the end of 2012, the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission implemented new regulations on pregnancy issues and the treatment of pregnancy-related conditions as disabilities.  In early 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor implemented new regulations on the coverage of military members and veterans under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  Though these updated regulations are not as recent as changes to the law discussed above, they are important changes for employers to observe given the prevalence of pregnancy disability leave and FMLA usage.

Public employers are subject to an ever shifting legal landscape.  These highlights primarily cover just the last year.  Employers who are not certain whether they have captured these changes in their personnel rules should strongly consider updating agency policies as a priority looking forward.