California Employers: What You Need to Know for 2014 – Immigrant Protections & Leaves, Accommodations, and Benefits

A new year means new legislation and regulations for employers with operations in California.  Prepared by Kate Gold, partner in the Los Angeles office, and Alexis Burgess, associate in the Los Angeles office, this four-part series will take a look at some of the new laws and regulation affecting private employers doing business in California.  Today we look at new laws and regulations in California dealing with immigrant protections & leaves, accommodations and benefits.

Immigrant Protections

Retaliation.  AB 263 prohibits an employer from using immigration law to retaliate against employees who assert protected rights under the Labor Code.  Employers who do so, e.g., by contacting or threatening to contact immigration authorities about the immigration status of a current, former, or prospective employee or their family members, will face various penalties, including suspension of certain business licenses, and may face civil action from affected employees.

Extortion.  Similarly, AB 524 clarifies that any person that threatens to report the known or suspected immigration status of an individual may be guilty of criminal extortion.

Despite both laws however, employers may still require employees to verify eligibility for employment under Form I-9 without becoming subject to any penalties.

Leaves, Accommodations, and Benefits

Leave for serious crime victims.  Under SB 288, an employee who has been a victim of certain serious crimes may not be discriminated or retaliated against for taking time off from work to appear in any legal proceeding in which his or her right as a victim is at issue.  The law defines “victim” to include any person who “suffers direct or threatened physical, psychological, or financial harm as a result of the commission or attempted commission of a crime or delinquent act,” as well as that person’s spouse, parent, child, sibling, or guardian.  Employees must, however, comply with specific requirements for requesting the leave.

Leave for stalking victims.  SB 400 extends existing leave protections for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault to victims of stalking.  All employers must provide time off to these victims to appear at legal proceedings, and employers with 25 or more employees must also provide time off to deal with medical/psychological treatment, including safety planning.

Leave for volunteer firefighters, peace officers, and rescue personnel.  Existing law requires an employer with 50 or more employees to permit an employee who is a volunteer firefighter to take temporary leaves of absence, not to exceed an aggregate of 14 days per calendar year, for the purpose of engaging in firefighting or law enforcement training.  AB 11 extends these leave provisions to reserve peace officers or emergency rescue personnel pursuing firefighting, law enforcement, or emergency rescue training.

Wage replacement.  Effective July 1, 2014, SB 770 extends paid family leave benefits to employees taking time off to care for a seriously ill grandparent, grandchild, sibling, or parent-in-law.  The law previously only covered time spent caring for a seriously ill child, spouse, domestic partner, or parent or to bond with a child within one year of birth, adoption, or foster care placement.  Note, however, that the law does not create the right to a leave of absence, but only to compensation/wage replacement during a qualifying absence.

“Family friendly” work arrangements in San Francisco.  According to the Family-Friendly Workplace Ordinance, employers with twenty or more full and part-time employees working within the geographic boundaries of San Francisco must consider employee requests for “flexible or predictable working arrangements to assist with care giving responsibilities,” provided that the employee has worked more than six months for the employer, works at least eight hours per week on a regular basis, and complies with guidelines set by the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement in making the request.  The ordinance also requires applicable employers to post a notice on the premises informing employees of their rights, and protects employees from retaliation for making a request or from adverse action based on “caregiver” status.

Small business health insurance.  Small business owners with one to fifty eligible employees may now enroll for health care coverage online at the Small Business Health Options (“SHOP”) segment of the Covered California website.  In fact, beginning on January 1, purchasing insurance through SHOP will be the only way for small business owners to access federal tax credits helping to offset contributions toward employee premiums.  Small businesses will be eligible for such tax credits if they have fewer than twenty-five full-time-equivalent employees for the tax year, pay employees an average of less than $50,000 per year and contribute at least fifty percent of their employees’ premium cost.  Maximum tax credits will go to employers with ten or fewer full-time-equivalent employees with wages averaging $25,000 or less per year.

Make sure to check out the first two posts in this series on new Wage and Hour Laws and Penalties and Discrimination and Retaliation.