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Top New California Employment Laws Affecting Small Businesses and Private Employers



The California Legislature concluded its 2013 regular session on September 12 with a flourish, sending a total this year of 896 bills to Governor Jerry Brown for approval (of 2,256 introduced).

The following is a brief description of the major 2013 bills affecting California private-sector employers.



Top New Employment Laws

  • California’s minimum wage will increase from $8 to $9 an hour effective July 1, 2014, and to $10 an hour effective January 1, 2016.
  • Applicants and employees who are undocumented residents gained additional rights, including protections from retaliation and “unfair immigration-related practices,” and new penalties were created for enforcement of these new rights.
  • Leave must be provided for court appearances for some employees who are victims of crime (Senate Bill (SB) 288).
  • Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), actionable sexual harassment need not be motivated by sexual desire (SB 292).
  • The privileged category of “military and veteran status” is added to the FEHA (AB 556).

Unless otherwise noted, the effective date of all new laws is January 1, 2014.

New Laws Applicable to All or Most California Private-Sector Employers

  • Permits suspension or revocation of an employer’s business license for retaliation against employees and others on the basis of citizenship or immigration status, and establishes a civil penalty up to $10,000 per violation; no requirement to exhaust administrative remedies under the Labor Code to bring a civil action under a provision of the Code unless the Code explicitly requires.
  • Prohibits specified “unfair immigration-related practices,” increases civil penalties to as high as $10,000 per employee per violation for any retaliation against an employee, authorizes a private right of action for equitable relief, damages, and penalties, and requires a court to order the appropriate government agencies to suspend or revoke an offending employer’s business license.  Expands the protected conduct to include a written or oral complaint by an employee that he or she is owed unpaid wages; expands the prohibited actions to include preventing an employee from, or retaliating against an employee for, providing information to, or testifying before, any public body conducting an investigation, hearing, or inquiry.
  • Adds “military and veteran status” (defined as “a member or veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces, U.S. Armed Forces Reserve, the U.S. National Guard, and the California National Guard”) to the list of categories protected from employment discrimination under the FEHA; provides an exemption for an inquiry by an employer regarding military or veteran status for the purpose of awarding a veteran’s preference as permitted by law.
  • Prohibits an employer from discharging, discriminating or retaliating against an employee who is a victim of a specified serious criminal offense for taking time off from work, upon the victim’s request, to appear in court to be heard at any proceeding, including any delinquency proceeding, involving a post-arrest release decision, plea, sentencing, post-conviction release decision, or any proceeding in which a right of the victim is at issue.
  • Amends the California Whistleblower Protection Act to prohibit an employer from making, adopting, or enforcing any rule, regulation, or policy preventing an employee from disclosing information to a government or law enforcement agency, if the employee has reasonable cause to believe that the information discloses a violation of, or noncompliance with, a local rule or regulation. The amendments also prohibit an employer from retaliating against an employee because the employer believes that the employee disclosed or may disclose information to a government or law enforcement agency, or to a person with authority over the employee or another employee who has the authority to investigate, discover, or correct the violation, if the employee has reasonable cause to believe that the information discloses a violation of a state or federal statute, or a violation of or noncompliance with a local, state, or federal rule or regulation. Finally, the measure prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee for disclosing, or refusing to participate in an activity that would result in a violation of, or noncompliance with, a local rule or regulation.
  • Specifies, for purposes of the definition of harassment because of sex under the FEHA, that sexually harassing conduct need not be motivated by sexual desire.
  • Authorizes the award of attorney’s fees and costs in an action brought for the non-payment of wages, fringe benefits or health and welfare pension fund contributions, where the prevailing party is not the employee (i.e., prevailing party is the employer), provided that the trial court finds that the employee brought the court action in bad faith.
  • Requires exclusion of prior criminal convictions from consideration in employment decisions when the conviction has been judicially dismissed.
  • Extends current protections required of employers for employees who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to employees who are known or suspected victims of stalking, and requires reasonable accommodations.
  • Broadens the definition of family within the Paid Family Leave (PFL) program to allow workers to receive partial wage replacement benefits while taking care of seriously ill siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, and parents-in-law. The provisions of this bill take effect July 1, 2014.
  • Criminalizes an employer’s failure to remit withholdings from an employee’s wages that were made pursuant to state, local, or federal law, and prescribes how recovered withholdings or court-imposed restitution, if any, are to be forwarded or paid.
  • Requires an employer employing 50 or more employees to permit an employee who performs emergency duty as a volunteer firefighter, reserve peace officer, or emergency rescue personnel, as defined, to take a specified leave of absence for the purpose of engaging in fire, law enforcement, or emergency rescue training.
  • “Domestic Worker Bill of Rights” regulates certain domestic work employees’ hours of work; provides an overtime compensation rate of time-and-a-half for hours worked exceeding nine hours in a day or 45 in a week; the law “sunsets” January 1, 2017, unless extended.

What You Need to Do Now

  • Update your employee handbook and, if necessary, policies and procedures, related to the increase in the minimum wage rate; changes in available leaves of absence; new protected categories; and prohibitions against discrimination in employment based on citizenship or immigration status, among other changes made by the new legislation.
  • Train, or send a memo to supervisors, advising them of the new laws, their responsibility to know these new laws, and their responsibilities to administer policy in conformity with the new laws.