New Laws Affecting California Employers in 2015
The year 2015 brings another round of new laws that impact California employers. The following are brief summaries of some of the more significant laws that became or become effective this year. These laws provide greater protections to California employees, following the trend of recent years.
MANDATORY PAID SICK DAYS
AB 1522 generally requires (with a few limited exceptions) all employers (regardless of size) to provide three paid sick days per year for every employee who has worked at least 30 days within a year of commencing her employment. These sick days accrue at a rate of at least one hour for every thirty hours the employee works. Employees may carry over from year to year unused accrued sick days, although an employer may cap the employee’s ability to accrue additional time once she reaches a total of 6 unused accrued days. Also, employers may limit employees to using 3 days or 24 hours of paid sick leave in a calendar year. An employer is not required to “cash out” an employee at the end of her employment for the unused sick days she accrues under this law.
An employee may begin using accrued sick days on the 90th day of her employment. The days may be used for her own illness, or to care for an ill family member. Victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking may also use these sick days to attend court hearings, medical appointments, counseling, etc.
While the law does not go into effect until July 1, 2015, employers were required to comply with posting requirements as of January 1, 2015. In addition, the new law requires specific notices on wage statements and imposes recordkeeping duties on employers.
Employers who have existing paid sick leave or paid time off policies need not provide additional sick days under this law if their existing policies provide for the minimum accruals required under this law or provide for no less than 3 days or 24 hours of paid sick leave or paid time off per year. Finally, the law prohibits employers from discriminating or retaliating against employees who exercise their rights under this new law.
EXPANSION OF ANTI-HARASSMENT TRAINING
Existing law requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide 2 hours of harassment prevention training to their supervisory employees every two years. Effective January 1, 2015, these employers must incorporate training to prevent abusive conduct in the workplace.
The law defines “abusive conduct” as conduct by an employer or employee with malice that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests. It is important to note that while the new law requires employers to include prevention of this conduct in its training, the law does not expand an employer’s liability to include abusive conduct that is not based on a protected class such as gender, race, age, etc. or in retaliation for exercising protected rights.
LIABILITY FOR EMPLOYERS WHO CONTRACT FOR LABOR
As of January 1, 2015, companies that contract for services face potential liability if the contractor hired does not comply with wage laws or obtain workers’ compensation insurance. This new law is so important that it is discussed separately elsewhere in this newsletter.
EXPANSION OF ANTI-HARASSMENT AND DISCRIMINATION LAWS TO UNPAID INTERNS AND VOLUNTEERS
Effective January 1, 2015, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits discrimination and harassment of unpaid interns and volunteers based on any legally protected class including gender, race, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, etc. In addition, the law extends to unpaid interns and volunteers the right to religious belief accommodation requirements.
EXPANSION OF PROTECTIONS FOR IMMIGRANTS
The Legislature enacted several new laws impacting immigrants including the following:
1. Non-Discrimination of AB 60 Drivers’ Licenses
AB 60 grants undocumented immigrants who are able to prove identity and California residence, the right to apply for and obtain California drivers’ licenses starting on January 1, 2015. AB 1660 prohibits employers from discriminating or taking adverse action against an individual who obtained a drivers’ license pursuant to AB 60, and deems such action national origin discrimination in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. However, the law also states that action taken by an employer to comply with the federal I-9 verification requirements is not a violation of California law.
2. Protection for Immigrants Exercising Rights under the Law
AB 2751 prohibits an employer from threatening to file or filing a false report with any state or federal agency. Violation of this law can result in a $10,000 penalty against the employer for each violation. This new law also provides that an employer may not discriminate or retaliate against an employee who updates his personal information based on a lawful change of name, social security number or federal employment authorization document.
These new laws focused on immigrants will challenge employers to strike a careful balance between complying with the federal laws against knowingly employing unauthorized workers and California’s anti-discrimination and retaliation laws.