New California Labor Laws for 2015

2015There are a milieu of new labor laws this year.  Here’s the highlights of what California employers need to know about these new laws going into 2015:

Mandatory Paid Sick Time – this is probably the hardest hitting change.  Sick time has always been at the discretion of the employer, but starting July 1, 2015, it is now mandatory.  Any employee (part time, full time or temporary) who has worked at least 30 days, must earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked.  What’s the impact?  Well, for the average employee who works 40 hours a week, year round, and takes 5 days vacation and 8 holidays, sick time calculates to 66 hours per year.  That’s more than a week and a half in just sick time.  For employers who offer PTO (paid time off) instead of sick and vacation time, the accruals must at least meet this minimum for the first year.  Also, this time is now considered earned, therefore the employee is entitled to pay once earned and it cannot be forfeited.  If at separation, the employee has earned, unused sick time, it must be paid out as does vacation pay.  Three days must be available immediately.  Employers may institute an accrual cap for sick time.  Although not effective until July 1, posting requirements are effective January 1.

What to do….Assure that each employee (including part time and temp) is accruing sick time at the required rate and track its use.  Institute an accrual cap.  Make sure earned, unused sick time is paid out at termination.  Assure all PTO plans meet this minimum requirement.  Employers may want to institute this policy effective January 1.  Make sure to replace/revise your required notices and postings by the 1st of the year.

Emergency Health Care Workers and Protected Leave – AB 2536 must add emergency health care workers to those who are covered in Volunteer Civil Service Leave.  They are now granted the same leave rights as volunteer firefighters, reserve peace officers and emergency rescue workers.

What to do…Add “emergency health care workers” to employees covered in this policy and make certain the revision is in your handbook.

Greater Liability for Employers Who Contract Labor – AB 1897 states that employers who contract labor are liable for wage and hour and workers’ compensation violations that occur while those employees are working on their behalf, even though the employee formally works for the contracted agency.  The law exempts companies with 25 employees or less, with 5 or less contracted employees at any given time and certain government employers.

What to do…Use reputable staffing firms and perform a thorough due diligence on any staffing agency to ascertain that they are compliant with California labor laws.

Heat Illness Rest and Recovery Periods – SB 1360 clarifies that breaks taken by employees as per current heat illness regulations are to be paid breaks and count as hours worked.

What to do…Ensure that you have a Heat Illness policy and that supervisors are well trained, as well as ensuring pay practices are compliant.  A nice tidbit…CalOSHA has a phone app that helps determine when to kick this regulation into action:

Foreign Labor Contractor Requirements to Combat Human Trafficking – SB 477 applies to companies who retain labor contractors outside of the United States to recruit for positions within California to comply with registration, licensing and bonding requirements and also requires California employers to use only agencies who meet these requirements.  Employers are also required to disclose which employees are working for a particular contractor.  Contractors are also required to disclose specific information to the worker in a language that they can comprehend regarding all terms and conditions.  This bill prohibits the employee from bearing any costs prior to commencement of work.

What to do…Again, deal with reputable firms and use diligence when selecting a contractor to ensure that they are compliance with all requirements of the law.

Services to Minors – This law requires a business that provides an extracurricular service or program of instruction and has adult employees who have supervisory or disciplinary power over a child or children to provide written notice to the parent or guardian of a youth participating in the service offered by the business regarding the business’s policies relating to criminal background checks for employees who provide services to minors.

What to do…For employers who provide such services, prepare a standard notification with respect to your background checking policy and provide it to the parents or guardians.  As an ongoing procedure, provide the notice before any services are rendered.  Make sure that your background checking policies are up to date and that procedures are followed.

Criminal History Information in Public Contracts – This law requires any organization submitting a bid to the state on a contract involving onsite construction-related services to certify that the organization does not ask an applicant for such employment to disclose information concerning the conviction history of the applicant on or at the time of an initial employment application.  This law does not apply to a position for which the person or the state is otherwise required by state or federal law to conduct a conviction history background check or to any contract position  with a criminal justice agency.

What to do…It’s becoming a common practice to eliminate all arrest and conviction questions from an initial application for employment and bring those up later in the interview process, so as not to inadvertently discriminate against a candidate who has satisfactorily served time and completed a sentence.  Employers must have a bona fide reason to refuse a candidate with an arrest or conviction record.  We may see this as a new protected class in the future.  However, an employer still has an obligation to do their due diligence when hiring to protect the workplace from potential violence.

New Requirements for Sexual Harassment Training – SB 1097 requires employers to add “prevention of abusive conduct” to their Sexual Harassment policies and training.  Abusive conduct, sometimes referred to as “bullying” is defined as “such conduct as repeated, health-harming mistreatment, verbal abuse or conduct which is threatening, humiliating, intimidating or sabotage that interferes with work or some combination of the three”.

What to do…Add prevention of “bullying/abusive conduct” to your policies and training.  Ensure supervisors understand and recognize such behavior, as well as how to handle infractions. Provide explicit examples and allow staff to ask questions.  The best thing to do is to conduct a revised training in early 2015 and restart the two year clock for mandatory training.

Discrimination Prohibited Against Public Assistance Recipients – AB 1792 is two pronged…one side is great, the other is being highly criticized.  What’s great is that employers are prohibited from discriminating or retaliating against employees or candidates receiving state assistance (Medi-Cal).  What’s irritating to a lot of folks is that the State will issue a public report of the top 500 companies (of 100 or more employees) who employ people on state assistance.  It’s been referred to as the “public shame” law.

What to do…Add “state assistance recipients” to the ever-growing list of protected employees.  Train managers to recognize, understand and remediate possible infringements.

Harassment Protection Extended to Unpaid Interns and Volunteers – AB 1443 extends the harassment protection provisions already in place to cover unpaid interns and volunteers.  In addition, employers may not discriminate or retaliate against unpaid interns and volunteers and must provide religious accommodations if applicable.

What to do…Add “unpaid interns and volunteers” to “employees” in all applicable policies.  Be certain that an “unpaid” internship is legitimate; certain conditions must be met for the internship to be unpaid.  Also, make sure that you are providing workers’ compensation coverage for interns and volunteers.

Immigration-Related Retaliation Prohibited – AB 2751 expands “retaliation” to include threatening to file or filing a false report or complaint with any state or federal agency; formerly, the law stated filing a report to the police.  Additionally, the new law prohibits discrimination or retaliation against individuals who legally change their name, social security number or federal employment authorization document.

What to do…Make sure that managers are aware of the change and institute this “non-practice” into your operations.

Discrimination Prohibited re: Licenses for Undocumented Workers – AB 1660 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an individual who holds a driver’s license issued to an undocumented person (called an AB 60 driver’s license) who presents valid proof or identity and California residency.  The law also stipulates that any action taken by an employer to comply with Federal I-9 requirements does not violate California law.  Furthermore, an employer cannot require an individual to present a driver’s license unless it is required by law.  And lastly, driver’s license information obtained by an employer must be treated confidentially.

What to do…Again, assure that all managers are aware of the new requirements.  Keep such information obtained from licenses in a secure and confidential place where access is on a “need to know” basis only.  Go through your existing employee files and make certain current information is secure and confidential as well.  Never require or suggest that a new employee provide a driver’s license as documentation needed for completion of Form I-9.


Good news from CalOSHA!  Employers may now email reports of a work-related injury to the Division of Safety and Health.


Other tidbits…

There are other laws that increase penalties for workplace violations, laws specific to farm labor and hospitals and are specific to municipalities.  Oakland, San Francisco and Berkeley all have new minimum wage laws.  Contact Golden State HR for specifics.