NEW YEAR, NEW LAWS: New 2014 California Employment Laws Benefit Employees and Burden Employers

The California legislature has enacted several new laws for 2014 which will substantially impact the wage, hour, and employment law landscape. Courtesy of the CalChamber, below is a summary of several of the changes that will take effect at the start of 2014. Carlsbad and San Diego employees and employers should take note of the new laws as rights for both parties are significantly impacted.


Minimum Wage

Assembly Bill (“AB”) 10 raises California’s current minimum wage of $8 per hour by two, one-dollar increments: to $9 per hour effective July 1, 2014, and to $10 per hour effective January 1, 2016.

Domestic Work Employees and Caretakers

AB 241 enacts the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, which provides for specific overtime pay for certain in-home employees; a “domestic work employee who is a personal attendant.” Those with in-home help will need to carefully determine whether the new law applies to them because AB 241 contains many specific definitions and exclusions.

Damages for Minimum Wage Violations

AB 442 expands the penalty available for citations issued by the Labor Commissioner for failing to pay minimum wage to include a requirement that the employer pay liquidated damages to the employee, in addition to existing penalties.

Meal and Rest Periods – Expansion to Heat Illness Recovery Periods

SB 435 expands meal and rest break prohibitions to “recovery” periods taken to prevent heat illness. Under SB 435, an employer cannot require an employee to work during a recovery period mandated by state law under Cal/OSHA’s heat illness standard.

An employer that does not provide an employee with a recovery period must pay the same premium penalty that exists for unprovided meal or rest breaks — one additional hour of pay for each workday that the meal, rest or recovery period is not provided.

Employers with outdoor places of employment are subject to Cal/OSHA’s heat illness standard, which allows for cool-down periods in the shade of no less than five minutes at a time on an “as-needed” basis for employees to protect themselves from overheating.

Protections for Exercising Rights Under Labor Code

AB 263 amends Labor Code Section 98.6, which protects employees who assert their rights under the Labor Code; for example, by complaining of wage theft. AB 263 prohibits retaliation or adverse action against employees for exercising their rights under the Labor Code (current law only explicitly prohibits discharge and discrimination).

AB 263 also expands protected conduct under Labor Code Section 98.6 to specifically include a written or oral complaint by an employee that he/she is owed unpaid wages. Critically, AB 263 adds a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per employee per violation.

Attorneys’ Fees – Prevailing Party Wage Claims

SB 462 states that employers who win wage-claim lawsuits may recover attorneys’ fees and costs from the employee only if a trial court finds that the employee filed the lawsuit in bad faith.

Prevailing Wages

A number of bills signed this year relate to prevailing wages. Employers that provide services or construction work for the government or public entities must pay the prevailing wage, which usually is significantly higher than the minimum wage.

The bills include AB 1336, SB 7, SB 54, SB 377 and SB 776. One notable bill (SB 54) expands payment of prevailing wages to privately financed refinery construction projects.


Protection for Military and Veterans

AB 556 adds “military and veteran status” to the list of categories protected from employment discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Sexual Harassment Definition Clarified

SB 292 amends the definition of harassment to clarify that sexually harassing conduct does not need to be motivated by sexual desire. The new law clarifies that hostile treatment can amount to unlawful sexual harassment regardless of whether the treatment was motivated by any sexual desire.

Whistleblower Protections

SB 496 expands whistleblower protections to include reports alleging a violation of a local rule or regulation. It also protects employees who disclose, or may disclose, information regarding alleged violations “to a person with authority over the employee or another employee who has authority to investigate, discover or correct the violation.”

Finally, SB 496 prohibits retaliation against an employee because the employer “believes the employee disclosed or may disclose information.”


Time Off for Crime Victims

SB 288 adds new protections for crime victims to take time off from work to appear in any court proceeding in which a right of the victim is at issue. The law applies only to specific crimes, such as solicitation for murder and vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

Employees must comply with requirements for requesting the leave. Violations of the law will be enforced by the Labor Commissioner.

Time Off for Victims of Stalking, Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking Victims

Paid Family Leave Benefits

SB 770 expands Paid Family Leave (PFL) wage-replacement benefits for employees to include benefits for time taken off to care for a seriously ill grandparent, grandchild, sibling or parent-in-law. PFL does not create the right to a leave of absence, but provides California workers with some financial compensation/wage replacement during a qualifying absence. This legislation takes effect July 1, 2014.

SB 400 extends existing protections for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault to victims of stalking. Existing protections that will now be extended to stalking victims include time off to appear at legal proceedings (all employers) and to seek medical/psychological treatment, including safety planning (employers with 25 or more employees).

SB 400 also makes it unlawful to discriminate or retaliate against an employee because of his/her status as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

SB 400 further adds a new reasonable accommodation requirement for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. Reasonable accommodations under the statute may include implementation of safety measures.

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