California has been busy this Fall! 2019’s Legislative Session has concluded, with Governor Gavin Newsom reviewing over 1,000 bills sent to his desk. All new employment laws have been finalized for 2020, most of them becoming effective on January 1, 2020. Here is a brief review of some of the most important bills pertaining to California employment law.
Extension Of Statute Of Limitations For Discrimination Claims
Assembly Bill 9
The SHARE Act (Stopping Harassment and Reporting Extension), or AB 9, extends the time for filing harassment and discrimination claims under the FEHA (Fair Employment and Housing Act). This bill extends the filing deadline from one year to three (3) years, giving victims additional time to resolve their grievances.
Hairstyle Discrimination Is Outlawed
Senate Bill 188
SB 188, also known as the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair), aims to protect employees from discrimination based on natural hair and hairstyles associated with a particular race. FEHA (the Fair Employment and Housing Act) provides protection against discrimination based on certain characteristics, including race. SB 188 expands the definition of ‘race’ to be inclusive of “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles”. This bill also applies to public schools but excludes religious associations and nonprofit organizations.
Prohibiting Mandatory Arbitration Agreements
Assembly Bill 51
AB 51 prohibits employers from requiring applicants or employees to waive their right to sue for a violation of California’s FEHA or the Labor Code as a condition of employment or receipt of employment-related benefits. Additionally, an employer is prohibited from retaliating or discriminating against, threatening, or terminating an employee or applicant for refusing the sign an arbitration agreement.
Remedies For Breach Of Arbitration Agreements
Senate Bill 707
This bill provides that an employer’s failure to pay fees and costs associated with arbitration in a timely manner to delay or cause ineffective the arbitration process would be considered as a breach of the arbitration agreement. Under this law the employer may not be able to compel arbitration and could be subject to monetary or evidentiary sanctions if the they refuse to pay the arbitration fees. This is a much-needed change as some employers would strategically refuse to pay arbitration fees in order to force discrimination cases into an indefinite limbo (i.e. where the arbitration clause prevents the employee from suing but the non-payment of fees prevent the arbitration from moving forward as well). Before SB 707, there was no formal remedy for this type of nefarious tactic.
Prohibiting “No Rehire” Provisions
Assembly Bill 749
AB 749 prohibits and invalidates any provisions in a settlement agreement between an employer and former employee that prevent the employee from obtaining future employment with the settling employer. This applies to parent, subsidiaries and affiliates of the employer. Any settlement or separation agreements that restrict an employee’s right to seek employment with the employer is no longer allowed. It voids any “no rehire” provisions in settlement agreements entered on or after January 1, 2020, unless the employer has made a good faith determination that the individual engaged in sexual harassment or assault.
Extended Paid Family Leave
Senate Bill 83
SB 83 will increase the benefits provided by California’s paid family leave program (PFL) from 6 weeks to 8 weeks of subsidized leave. This bill will take effect on July 1, 2020.
Sexual Harassment Training
Senate Bill 778
Beginning January 1, 2021, SB 778 requires employers to provide sexual harassment training for their employees. Thereafter, California employers are required to provide sexual harassment training and education once every two years.
Senate Bill 142
SB 142 expands an employer’s responsibilities and duties to provide lactation accommodation. It adds a number of new requirements for the lactation room. The space must not be a bathroom but needs to include access to running water and a refrigerator or cooler for storing milk. There must be a place to sit, a surface for personal items, and access to electricity through extension and charging cords. The bill also subjects employers to Labor Code penalties for any violations.
Senate Bill 688
This bill amends the current Labor Code which issues a citation when an employer has failed to pay at least the minimum wage. SB 688 expands the enforcement abilities of the Labor Commissioner by giving authority to issue a citation to employers for failure to pay wages the contractually promised wage of more than the minimum wage.
Penalties For Failure To Pay Wages
Assembly Bill 673
This bill allows employees to recover civil penalties for any unpaid wages. Previously, these civil penalties were enforceable only through the action of the Labor Commissioner. AB 673 entitles employees to recover $100 for each initial failure to pay and for a “subsequent violation, or any willful or intentional violation” of $200 for each violation of failing to pay. Employee recovery is limited to statutory penalties or civil penalties under the Private Attorney’s General Act (PAGA). They are not entitled to both for the same violation. Additionally, employers will be liable for a quarter of the amount that was unlawfully withheld for certain Labor Code violations.