Don’t Labor Under New Laws — What Employers Need to Know About 2016 California Labor Laws

*Originally published by CalCPA in the January/February 2016 issue of California CPA — the original article can be found here.

Many California employers feel over-regulated—and under-appreciated. Yet, surprisingly, proposed new regulation of employers has declined. In 2015, 224 bills introduced in the California Legislature mention “employer,” compared to 574 in 2014. Most of those bills did not pass, and of the ones that did, most were not signed into law by Gov. Brown. One veto blocked a bill (AB 465) that would have made pre-dispute arbitration agreements made as a condition of employment—the kind that are in widespread use across the state—unlawful. Another veto rejected a bill (AB 676) reintroduced this year that would have penalized employers for limiting job prospects of, or discriminating against, applicants who are not currently employed.

Key elements of some of the bills that became law affecting private employers, effective Jan. 1, 2016, unless otherwise mentioned and organized by bill number, follow.

Minimum Wage Boost

As of Jan. 1, the state minimum wage for non-exempt workers will increase to $10 per hour, up from $9. This change also impacts classification of most exempt workers. In addition to strict “duties tests” for administrative, executive and professional wage and hour exemptions, a salary of at least twice the state minimum wage must be paid to meet the “salary basis test.” That increases the annualized exempt salary requirement to $41,600, up from $37,440. Also affected is the retail inside-sales exemption, which requires employees be paid at least 1.5 times the state minimum wage, and at least half of their other earnings be from commissions.

An increasing number of municipalities have increased the minimum wage for companies who employ workers in their jurisdiction. As of July 1, minimum wage at Los Angeles employers with 26 or more employees will increase to $10.50 per hour, and will increase annually up to $15 per hour by July 1, 2021. Minimum wage for employees in San Francisco increased to $12.25 from $11.05 per hour May 1, 2015, and will incrementally increase to $15 per hour by July 1, 2018. Many other cities, including Berkley, Oakland and San Diego have either enacted or have pending minimum wage laws. In addition, living wage laws may require higher minimum wages be paid as a condition of contracting with local, state or federal agencies. Employers should monitor each of the requirements to assure compliance.

Penalties for Pre-offer E-Verify Use

Employers may hire only individuals who have the right to work in the United States—either U.S. citizens or foreign citizens with authorization issued by the federal government. E-Verify, administered by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Social Security Administration (SSA), is an internet-based system that allows employers to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.

AB 622 continues a California law trend to prevent employment discrimination of immigrants. The new law prohibits employers from using E-Verify to check the employment authorization status of employees or applicants who have not received an offer of employment. Post-offer use of E-Verify remains lawful, as does use required by federal law (such as certain federal contractors) or as a condition of receiving federal funds. In addition to other remedies that may be available, the new law establishes a civil penalty not to exceed $10,000 for each unlawful use of the E-Verify system.

AB 622 also mandates employers provide to the affected worker—as soon as practicable—any DHS or SSA notification containing information specific to the worker’s E-Verify case or any nonconfirmation notice, indicating that the E-Verify data entered does not match federal records.

More Labor Commissioner Enforcement Powers

AB 970 expands the Labor Commissioner’s power to enforce local laws regarding overtime and minimum wage, and to issue citations and penalties for violations, except when the local entity has already issued a citation for the same violation.

Labor Code Sec. 2802 requires employers to indemnify for expenses or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence of the discharge of the employee’s duties or as a result of obeying the employer’s directions. In addition to a private right of action by the employee to recover these expenditures, AB 970 authorizes the Labor Commissioner to issue citations and penalties against employers who violate Sec. 2802.

Employment Discrimination Clarified

AB 987 clarifies that it is an unlawful employment practice under the Fair Employment and Housing Act for an employer to retaliate or otherwise discriminate against an employee for “requesting” an accommodation for a disability or religious belief or observance, regardless of whether the request was granted.

Employers Can Cure Some Violations to Avoid PAGA

California’s Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) permits an employee to sue to recover civil penalties for certain alleged Labor Code violations that could otherwise be pursued by the Labor and Workforce Development Agency on behalf of the employee and other current or former employees. Employee-side litigants have used the act to leverage penalties on a workforce-wide basis for technical Labor Code violations, even where the employee has not been damaged.

As of Oct. 2, 2015, AB 1506 allows employers the opportunity to correct itemized wage statements (i.e., paystubs) to include missing inclusive dates of the pay period and the name and address of the legal employer, to avoid a PAGA action over those defects. The employer may cure the alleged violation within 33 calendar days of the postmark date of the PAGA notice it receives. The bill requires only a showing that the employer has provided fully compliant paystubs to each aggrieved employee to establish cure.

Whistleblowers’ Family Members Protected

Labor Code secs. 98.6, 1102.5 and 6310 generally prohibit an employer from discharging or taking other adverse action against any employee or applicant who has complained about unlawful discrimination, retaliation or any adverse action; engaged in whistleblowing activity; or complained about unsafe working conditions.

AB 1509 provides that an employer, or a person acting on behalf of the employer, shall not retaliate
against an employee because the employee is a family member of a person who has, or is perceived to have, engaged in any acts protected by these provisions. The term “employer” or “person acting on their behalf ” includes “client employers” (i.e., a business entity that obtains or is provided workers to perform labor within its usual course of business from a labor contractor) or a “controlling employer” (i.e., an employer listed in Labor Code Section 6400(b) regarding multiemployer worksites).

Piece-Rate Worker Pay Requirements

AB 1513, which adds new Labor Code Sec. 226.2 and repeals others, applies to employees who are
compensated on a piece-rate basis for any work performed during a pay period. This new law requires that employees be compensated for rest and recovery periods and “other nonproductive time” separate from any piece-rate compensation as follows:

Rest and recovery periods must be compensated at a regular hourly rate that is no less than the higher of: (i) an “average hourly rate” determined by dividing the total compensation for the workweek, exclusive of compensation for rest and recovery periods and any premium compensation for overtime, by the total hours worked during the workweek; or (ii) the “applicable minimum wage,” defined by the bill as “the highest of the federal, state or local minimum wage applicable to the employment.”

Certain employers, who comply with the applicable minimum wage requirement, have until April 30 to program their payroll systems to perform and record the calculation required under the average hourly rate requirement and comply with the itemized wage statement requirements (see below), so long as such employers pay piece-rate employees retroactively for all rest and recovery periods at or above the applicable minimum wage from Jan. 1–April 30, inclusive, and pay the difference between the amounts paid and the amounts that would be owed under the average hourly rate requirement, together with interest.

Other nonproductive time is that which is under the employer’s control, exclusive of rest and recovery periods, and not directly related to the activity being compensated on a piece-rate basis. That time must be compensated at an hourly rate that is no less than the applicable minimum wage. The amount of other nonproductive time may be determined either through actual records or the employer’s reasonable estimates, whether for a group of employees or for a particular employee, of other nonproductive time worked during the pay period.

Finally, in addition to the list of items required by Labor Code Sec. 226 for itemized wage statements, Sec. 226.2 requires that the statements include the:

  • Total hours of compensable rest and recovery periods;
  • Rate of compensation; and
  • Gross wages paid for those periods during the pay period.

Employers who do not pay an hourly rate for all hours worked in addition to piece-rate wages must also list on the itemized statements the total hours of other nonproductive time, rate of compensation for that time and gross wages paid for that time during the pay period.

Hospital Meal Period Waivers

For non-exempt employees, Labor Code Sec. 512 requires two meal periods for work periods of more than 10 hours. However, employees are allowed to waive their second meal period if the total hours worked in their shift are no more than 12. Effective Oct. 5, 2015, SB 327 made statutory the longstanding rule under Sec. 11(D) of Wage Order 5 that health care industry employees who work shifts in excess of eight total hours in a workday are permitted to waive their second meal period. The bill effectively sets aside a contrary appellate court decision.

Equal Pay Act for Substantially Similar Work

SB 358, known as the California Fair Pay Act (CFPA), subjects employers to one of the strictest and most aggressive equal pay laws in the country.

Under the CFPA, an employer is prohibited from paying employees of the opposite sex lower wage
rates for “substantially similar work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort and responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions.”

Previously, the equal pay statute was more limited. It prohibited employers from paying employees of the opposite sex in the same establishment for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort and responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions. The standard permits employees to bring an unequal pay claim based on wage rates in any of their employer’s facilities and in other job categories as long as the work is substantially similar.

The employer’s defense burden has increased under the CFPA. An employer must establish that the entire wage differential is based on the reasonable application of one or more of the following:

  • A seniority system;
  • A merit system;
  • A system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or
  • A bona fide factor other than sex—such as education, training or experience.

The last factor will apply if the employer shows that the factor is not the result of a sex-based differential in compensation, is related to the position and is consistent with business necessity. An employee can defeat this defense by proving that an alternative business practice exists that would serve the same business purpose without producing the wage differential.

Seeking to decrease pay secrecy, the CFPA further prohibits employers from enacting rules, policies or otherwise engaging in conduct that prohibits employees from disclosing their own wages, discussing the wages of others, asking about other employees’ wages or aiding and encouraging employees to exercise rights under the CFPA. Yet, no one, including an employer, is obligated to disclose employees’ wages.

Finally, the CFPA prohibits discharge, discrimination and retaliation of employees for asserting rights under the act. The statute, as amended by the CFPA, permits a civil action seeking reinstatement, lost wages and interest, an equal amount as liquidated damages, lost benefits, other equitable relief and attorneys fees recovery. Finally, the CFPA requires that employers maintain records of employees’ “wages and rates of pay, job classifications, and other terms and conditions of employment” for a three-year period.

Wage Garnishment Restrictions

SB 501 amends, repeals and adds Sec. 706.050 of the Code of Civil Procedure, relating to wage garnishment. The new law reduces the prohibited amount of an individual judgment debtor’s weekly disposable earnings subject to levy under an earnings withholding order from exceeding the lesser of 25 percent of the individual’s weekly disposable earnings or 50 percent of the amount by which the individual’s disposable earnings for the week exceed 40 times the state minimum hourly wage, or applicable local minimum hourly wage, if higher, in effect at the time the earnings are payable.

Employee Time Off

California’s Kin Care Law allows employees to use half of their accrued sick leave to care for a “family member” (as defined). The Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act (Paid Sick Leave Act) SB 579, which went into effect July 1, requires certain mandatory accrual of paid sick days. The bill effectively trues-up the two statutes by defining “sick leave” as leave provided for use by the employee during an absence from employment for purposes permitted by the Paid Sick Leave Act; prohibiting an employer from denying an employee the right to use sick leave; and taking specific discriminatory action against an employee for using, or attempting to exercise the right to use, sick leave for these purposes.

In other words, employees may use paid sick leave for their own health condition or preventative care, a family member’s health condition or preventative care, and if the employee is a victim of domestic assault, sexual violence and stalking. Further, “family member” now includes a child, regardless of age or dependency (including adopted, foster, step or legal ward), parent (biological, adoptive, foster, step, in-law or registered domestic partner’s parent), spouse, registered domestic partner, grandparent, grandchild or siblings.

The Family School Partnership Act applies only to employers with 25 or more employees and permits an employee—defined as a parent, guardian or grandparent having custody of a child in school (grades 1–12) or child day care facility—unpaid leave of up to 40 hours each year (and no more than eight hours in a calendar month) to participate in school activities, subject to specified conditions. SB 579 amends this act by changing its scope from “child day care facility” to “child care provider” and adding leave rights for stepparents or foster parents, or one who stands in loco parentis to a child. The new law also allows employees to take unpaid time off to enroll or reenroll their children in a school or with a licensed child care provider.

Even More Labor Commissioner Enforcement Powers

SB 588 provides the California Labor Commissioner with additional powers to enforce judgments against employers arising from the employers’ nonpayment of wages. The new law, among other things, authorizes the Labor Commissioner to use any of the existing remedies available to a judgment creditor and to act as a levying officer when enforcing a judgment pursuant to a writ of execution; and issue a notice of levy if the levy is for a deposit, credits, money or property in the possession or under the control of a bank or savings and loan association or for an account receivable or other general intangible owed to the judgment debtor by an account debtor.

If an employer fails to pay a judgment for unpaid wages within 30 days of it becoming “final” (i.e., exhaustion of appeals), the employer must stop doing business in California unless it posts bond up to $150,000 (depending on the unsatisfied portion of the judgment). And the Labor Commissioner can issue a “stop order” to suspend all business operations to enforce this new provision.

What’s Next?
Employers should consider how these new laws impact their workplaces, and then review and update their personnel practices and policies with the advice of experienced attorneys or human resource professionals.

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