Highlights of Changes to California Employment Law


The California State Legislature enacted numerous employment laws in 2013 that affect California employees and employers.  Below is a brief summary of some of the most important changes to California employment law.  Unless otherwise specified, these laws became effective on January 1, 2014.

Expansion of Employee Whistleblower Protection (SB 496) (Labor Code § 1102.5)
SB 496 amends the California Labor Code to provide greater whistleblower protections to employees who disclose information related to an employer’s alleged violations of the law.  Section 1102.5 now protects not only an employee who reports illegal conduct to a government or law enforcement agency , but also an employee who reports suspected illegal conduct internally to persons who have authority over the employee or with the authority to investigate, discover, or correct the reported conduct.  SB 496 also expands whistleblower protection to the disclosure of information regarding the potential violation of local rules or regulations, in addition to state and federal laws.

Prohibition on “Unfair Immigration-Related Practices” (AB 263 / AB 524 / SB 666)
AB 263 amends the Labor Code to prohibit “unfair immigration-related practices” against an employee in retaliation for exercising his or her rights under the law.  An “unfair immigration-related practice” is defined to include: (i) requesting more or different immigration-related documents than are required under federal immigration law, (ii) refusing to honor immigration-related documents that reasonably appear to be genuine; (iii) using the federal E-Verify system to check the employment authorization status of a person at a time or in a manner not required by federal law, (iv) filing or threatening to file a false police report, and (v) threatening to contact immigration authorities. AB 263 creates a private right of action for employees and provides for reinstatement, reimbursement for lost wages, and a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per violation.  Sanctions against an employer that violates this law may include, but are not limited to, up to a 90-day suspension of the employer’s business licenses. Further, AB 524 prohibits an employer from reporting, or threatening to report, the immigration status of an employee or an employee’s family member to immigration authorities, and criminalizes such threats.

California Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (AB 241) (Labor Code § 1450)
The “Domestic Worker Bill of Rights” requires that “personal attendants” receive overtime compensation (one-and-a-half times the employee’s regular rate of pay) for hours worked in excess of nine hours in a day or 45 hours in a week.  A “personal attendant” is defined as any person employed to work in a private household to supervise, feed, or dress a child or person who by reason of advanced age, physical disability, or mental deficiency needs supervision.  To qualify under the law, a domestic work employee must devote at least 80% of his or her total weekly hours to these duties.

Expansion of California Paid Family Leave(SB 770) (Unemployment Insurance Code §§ 2708, 3301-3303)
The California Paid Family Leave program authorizes eligible employees to take up to six weeks of partially paid leave from their jobs to care for a child, spouse, or registered or domestic partner.  SB 770 expands the scope of the Program to include care for a seriously ill grandparent, grandchild, sibling, or parent-in-law. This change becomes effective on July 1, 2014.

Fair Employment and Housing Act – Sexual Harassment (SB 292) (Government Code §12940)
SB 292 amends the California Government Code to make clear that claims of sexual harassment do not require evidence of harassment motivated by sexual desire.  So long as the harassment was directed to someone because of his or her sex, the harassment is unlawful.  This law overturns the decision in Kelley v. Conco Companies, 196 Cal.App.4th 191 (Cal. App. 2011), which had affirmed summary judgment against a plaintiff on the grounds that plaintiff had failed to prove that the alleged sexual harasser harbored sexual desire for the plaintiff.

Limit on Prevailing Employer’s Right To Attorneys’ Fees in Wage and Hour Cases – (SB 462) (Labor Code § 218.5)
SB 462 amends Labor Code § 218.5 to provide that employers who prevail in lawsuits by employees seeking recovery of unpaid wages may recover attorneys’ fees and costs from the employees only if the court finds that the employees brought the lawsuit in bad faith.  Labor Code § 218.5 previously provided for prevailing party attorneys’ fees.

Minimum Wage Increase and Increased Penalties for Unpaid Wages (AB 10 / AB 442) (Labor Code §§ 1182.12, 1194.2, 1197.1)
The California minimum wage will increase from $8.00 to $9.00 per hour, effective July 1, 2014. The minimum wage will then increase again to $10.00 per hour, effective January 1, 2016. These increases affect not only the requirements for non-exempt hourly workers, but also the minimum salary requirements for exempt employees.  An employee classified as exempt must be paid a salary of at least two times the amount paid to a full-time minimum wage employee.  Thus, the minimum monthly salary to preserve exempt status will increase to $3,120, annualized to $37,440. In addition, AB 442 amends the California Labor Code to allow employees to seek liquidated damages, in an amount equal to the unpaid wages plus interest, for an employer’s violation of minimum wage requirements. Employers and employees should note that certain cities are governed by a minimum wage set by local ordinance.  For instance, the minimum wage in San Francisco is $10.74/hour and the minimum wage in San Jose is $10.15/hour for 2014.

San Francisco Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance
This ordinance provides individuals who are employed in San Francisco with the right to request flexible work arrangements to assist with the care of a child under the age of 18, a relative with a serious health condition, or a parent (age 65 or older).  Such requests may include a modified work schedule, changes in start/end times, part-time employment, job sharing arrangement, working from home, telecommuting, reduction or change in work duties, and predictability in the work schedule.  An employer denying a request for a flexible work arrangement must provide a written response that sets out a bona fide business reason for the denial and provides the employee with notice of the right to request reconsideration.  Employees are also protected from adverse action for exercising rights protected by this ordinance.  This ordinance applies to employers in San Francisco with twenty or more employees.

These summaries are not exhaustive and are not a substitute for specific legal advice.  If you have any questions regarding these new employment laws or other employment-related issues, please feel free to contact us.  Minami Tamaki regularly counsels employees on their legal rights and employers on compliance with the law.  

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