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.

Beware of ICE!

By: Jerrold J. Wohlgemuth

The Department of Homeland Security has issued new and revised I-9 Forms that employers must begin using on May 7 for all new hires.  Failure to properly complete and retain the new forms can result in substantial fines and penalties.  With immigration being a hot issue in Washington, we should expect that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) will be vigilant in conducting audits to enforce the I-9 requirements.  Beware of ICE!

ICE will continue to focus its resources on the criminal prosecution of employers that knowingly hire illegal workers.  Audits of employers for compliance with I-9 requirements is the principal tool for ICE to identify and prosecute violators.  Unfortunately, those audits often result not in prosecution for hiring illegals, but in the imposition of substantial fines for paperwork and retention mistakes even where such mistakes have nothing to do with the employment of illegal aliens.  Under the matrix used for calculating fines, ICE punishes employers based on the percentage of Forms handled improperly, which means that an employer could be fined more than $1,000 per Form if it makes the same mistake in completing or maintaining the Forms for each new hire, even if there are no illegal employees and the mistakes are merely inadvertent or negligent errors.

Employers need to become familiar with the new two-page Form and its accompanying Instructions.  As a general rule, each new hire must fill out and sign Page 1, Section 1 of the Form no later than the first day of employment, but in no event prior to the employee’s acceptance of a job offer.  Section 1 includes a new request for the employee’s telephone number and email address, but employers should know, if asked, that the Instructions indicate that providing such information is optional (although it does not say so on the Form).  After completing Section 1, the employee will have three days to provide the employer with the required documents (Passport, Driver’s License, Social Security Card, Alien Registration, etc.) to prove identity and authorization to work in the U.S.  Employers may not demand or request that the employee produce a specific form of documentation from the List of Acceptable Documents included with the I-9 Form.  Once the proper documents have been produced, the employer must review them to determine that they are current, original and reasonably authentic, and carefully fill out, sign and certify Section 2 of the Form confirming that it has in fact reviewed the documents provided.  The Certification in Section 2 is critical, as it is not sufficient for the employer to simply attach copies of the documents to the Form.

While employers are not required to retain a copy of the documents, keeping a copy with the completed Form is recommended for all new hires, not just for foreign born employees, because it is illegal to discriminate based on an individual’s place of birth.  The I-9 Forms must be retained for the longer of three years from the date of hire or one year following termination, and should be kept in a folder separate from the employee’s personal file, which can easily be produced in the event of an audit.  Employers are subject to substantial fines if the Forms are not properly completed, signed and retained in conformance with the rules.

We recommend that employers audit their I-9 procedures to verify they are currently in compliance with Immigration requirements and to ensure that their HR staff is familiar with the new Form.  We also suggest that employers review their existing policies, or create an I-9 Compliance Policy, to ensure that the proper procedure is followed for each new hire.  Beware of ICE!

How ICE Can Freeze Your Business Operations!

By: Pascal Benyamini

ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was formed in 2003 “as part of the federal government’s response to the 9/11 attacks and its mission is to protect the security of the American people and homeland by vigilantly enforcing the nation’s immigration and customs laws.” With an annual budget of more than $5 billion and more than 19,000 employees in over 400 offices in the U.S. and around the world, ICE is the largest investigative agency in the United States Department of Homeland Security.  ICE may conduct raids or sweeps at a particular place of business. ICE can also send Notices of Inspections to employers to alert them that it will be inspecting their I-9s and hiring records to determine whether or not they are complying with employment eligibility verification laws and regulations.  ICE’s increased focus is on holding employers accountable for their hiring practices and their efforts to ensure a legal workforce.  ICE also seeks to ensure that employers are compliant with I-9 forms and hiring records.

In the event of audits or raids, employers’ non-compliance may result in civil penalties and lay the groundwork for criminal prosecution of employers who have knowingly violated the law.  According to ICE’s Assistant Secretary John Morton, “ICE is focused on finding and penalizing employers who believe they can unfairly get ahead by cultivating illegal workplaces.”  He added that ICE is “increasing criminal and civil enforcement of immigration-related employment laws and imposing smart, tough employer sanctions to even the playing field for employers who play by the rules.”

While the presence of illegal aliens at a business does not necessarily mean the employer is responsible, consulting with legal counsel is paramount to limiting your potential exposure in your hiring practices.