A number of changes to California Employment Law have taken effect or were recently amended. The laws are summarized below. If you are experiencing difficulties at work regarding these situations, or would like to speak with an attorney regarding your employment rights, please give us a call.
Changes to the new law regarding Paid Sick Leave include requirements that:
-An employee must work for the same employer for 30 or more days within a year of the commencement of employment to be eligible to use PSL.
-Allow for alternative accrual methods for all leave banks.
-“Grandfather” in leave banks existing as of January 1, 2015.
-Allow employers with unlimited or undefined leave banks to indicate “unlimited” on the employee’s itemized wage statement.
-Allow employers to calculate the rate of pay for employees using any of three methods.
-Make other clarifications and exclusions from the PSL law, and delay its effective date for some employers.
California’s equal pay statute, first enacted in 1949, was significantly modified to lower the burden of proof for plaintiff’s claims, to greatly increase the burden of proof for an employer’s defenses, and to allow employees to ask other employees about the amount of their wages for the purpose of ascertaining whether there may be a factual basis for an equal pay claim. Governor Brown has referred to the new law as “the strongest equal pay law in the nation.”
Employment retaliation protections are extended to an employee who is a family member of a person who engaged in, or is perceived to have engaged in, legally protected conduct. This bill also exempts household goods carriers from the client employer and labor contractor liability provisions in this law.
Employers are prohibited from retaliating or otherwise discriminating against an employee for requesting accommodation of his or her disability or religious beliefs, regardless of whether the accommodation request was ultimately granted. The new law is intended to clarify a portion of the holding in the published decision of Rope v. Auto-Clor System of Washington, Inc. 220 Cal. App. 4th 635 (2013).
The Labor Commissioner is authorized to file a lien on real estate, or a levy on an employer’s property, or impose a stop order on an employer’s business in order to assist an employee in collecting unpaid wages where there is a judgment against the employer. Any employer, or individual acting on behalf of an employer, who violates any provision regulating minimum wages or hours and days of work in any order of the Industrial Welfare Commission, or who violates other related provisions of law may be held liable as the employer for such violation. A bond of up to $150,000 may be required of an employer who does not promptly pay a judgment for unpaid wages.
The Labor Commissioner will have the authority to issue a citation to enforce local minimum wage and overtime laws, including against an employer or person acting on behalf of an employer for violations of existing law related to reimbursements for expenses.
The duration of the “disability benefit period” is extended from 14 days to 60 days.
Two statutory provisions containing the term “alien,” used to describe any person who is not born in or a fully naturalized citizen of the United States, will be deleted from the Labor Code.
The Family School Partnership Act is expanded to broaden the authorized reasons for which an employee can take job-protected time off of work without the fear of discrimination or discharge by allowing workers to take time off work to: (1) find, enroll, or re-enroll his or her child in a school or with a licensed child care provider, and (2) to address a child care provider or school emergency, as defined. (SB 579; amends Labor Code sections 230.8 and 233).
Certain grocery stores that are sold to another entity will have specified obligations to retain grocery workers for a limited period of time.
The definition of an “unlawful employment practice” is expanded to prohibit an employer or any other person or entity from using the E-Verify system at a time or in a manner not required by federal law, or not authorized by a federal agency memorandum of understanding, to check the employment authorization status of an existing employee or an applicant who has not received an offer of employment. There is a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation of the provisions of the bill.
Pedicab businesses might have the option of allowing alcohol to be served and consumed on board, if their employees are properly trained.
22 Jan 2014
The IRS announced the 2014 optional standard mileage reimbursement rates. Beginning January 1, 2014, they decrease one-half cent from the current rates in effect, and are as follows:
- 56 cents per mile for business miles driven;
- 23.5 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes; and
- 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations (same as current rate in effect).
10 Oct 2013
On October 5, 2013, Governor Brown signed SB 666 (Steinberg) into law. SB 666 does the following:
It overturns MacDonald v. State of California (discussed here), in which the Court of Appeal held that an employee must exhaust the administrative remedy set forth in Labor Code section 98.7 before pursuing a civil claim for retaliatory discharge or wrongful termination in violation of Labor Code section 1102.5 and retaliatory and discriminatory discharge in violation of Labor Code section 6310.
Significantly, the new law also makes it clear that an employer who retaliates or takes adverse action against any employee or applicant for employment because he or she has engaged in protected conduct may be subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per violation.
The law also subjects attorneys to discipline for reporting or threatening to report the suspected immigration status of a witness or party to a civil or administrative action or his or her family member, to a federal, state, or local agency because the witness or party exercises or has exercised a right related to his or her employment. It also subjects certain licensed professionals and businesses to license suspension or revocation if the Labor Commissioner or a court determines that they have violated certain provisions of California law.
Further information on SB 666, including the text of the bill, is available here.
Why Does it Matter?
Many employers ask (or require) employees to sign arbitration agreements. Once signed, the employee gives up their right to sue their employer in court over job-related issues such as wrongful termination, breach of contract, and discrimination. An employee who signs an arbitration agreement promises to pursue legal claims against the employer through arbitration, rather than through a lawsuit. It might not sound like a big deal when you’re starting a new job and settling into a new routine or making friends with the people you work with, but if your rights are later violated at work, that arbitration agreement might come back to haunt you.
So, What are the Pros and Cons of Arbitration?
First, the Cons
You may wonder why you should care where your claims get heard, as long as they are heard somewhere, whether in an arbitration proceeding or a court of law. An arbitration differs from a court case in several ways, and many of these differences work against employees.
Most important, an arbitration is heard and decided by an “arbitrator” — a private citizen (often a retired judge) who is paid by one or both sides to listen to the evidence and witnesses. That means you won’t have a jury hear your story — and juries often decide cases based on sympathy and relate better to an employee than an employer.
In addition, the arbitration process limits the amount of information each side can get from the other (a process called discovery). In employment cases, this generally hurts the employee, because the employer is usually the one in possession of most of the documents and information relating to the employee’s case.
Finally, an arbitration usually cannot be appealed, which makes arbitration awards more final than court verdicts. If you think the arbitrator’s decision is unfair or wrong, you won’t get a second chance to argue your case before a higher court — a second chance that you might have gotten had you gone to a court trial.
An arbitration does have some advantages over a court trial. Arbitrations are less formal than court trials, and this informality can make the process easier for all involved, especially employees who are not used to litigation. Also, cases in arbitration are heard and decided much more quickly than court cases, which can take several years from start to finish.
What Should You Do if Asked to Sign an Arbitration Agreement?
Read ALL of the Documents Carefully, or Have them Reviewed
Employees often sign arbitration agreements unintentionally. How can this happen? Some employers give new employees piles of paperwork to fill out on their first day, and some employees, in turn, sign documents without reading them. Although many employers are straightforward and present the arbitration agreement to employees openly in a separate contract, others bury arbitration agreements in other documents, such as an employment contract, a hiring letter, or an employee handbook.
When you sign a contract, letter, handbook acknowledgment form, or any other document from your employer, you agree to all the terms of the document — even the ones that you may not have read. This is a particular problem with handbooks, which might be very long. To protect yourself from unwittingly giving up your rights, don’t sign any document acknowledging you’ve read something unless you actually have read it and understood it completely. And don’t sign any document that says you agree to the terms unless you have read all of the terms and do in fact agree to them.
What if You Do Not Want to Sign the Arbitration Agreement?
If your employer asks you to sign an arbitration agreement, you can refuse, but that may put your job in jeopardy. Usually, an employer can rescind an employment offer if a prospective employee refuses to sign the arbitration agreement. And an employer can fire an at-will employee who refuses to sign one. Therefore, declining to sign the agreement could jeopardize your job.
Some employers will negotiate this point, however, especially if they are more excited about you than they are about arbitration. If you are a highly sought after prospect, or if you are a valued employee in your company, your employer may allow you to refuse to sign rather than give you up.
Another option is to agree to sign, but only if you can negotiate an agreement that is fair to you, as described below.
How Can You Make the Agreement Fair?
If your employer won’t let you refuse to sign, it may allow you to negotiate certain terms of the agreement to make it at least balanced. You may have to consult with an attorney for help negotiating the fairest agreement possible. Here are some provisions that can help create a more balanced arbitration process.
•Choice of arbitrator. You should get as much say in choosing the arbitrator as the employer. Given the power of the arbitrator, and given the fact that you probably won’t get to appeal the arbitration decision, you will want to have rights equal to those of your employer in selecting the arbitrator. You and the employer should have the right to reject at least one arbitrator without having to give a reason.
•Disclosure of information. A potential arbitrator should have to disclose information about his or her business and personal interests so you can make sure that the arbitrator is not biased in favor of the employer. For example, the arbitrator should not be someone who is a stockholder in the company. You and the employer should have the right to reject any arbitrator who has a conflict of interest.
•Costs of arbitration. Because the employer is the one who wants to use arbitration — something that costs money — the employer should have to pay for it.
•Remedies available. Make sure that you can receive through arbitration all of the remedies that you would have gotten if you had filed your claim in a court of law. For example, the agreement should not prohibit you from seeking punitive damages or damages for emotional distress.
•Attorney representation. You should have the right to be represented by an attorney throughout the arbitration process.