December 2015 / January 2016
KERN BUSINESS JOURNAL
New year brings in significant workforce laws By Holly Culhane
ern County employers need a heads-up when they round the corner into 2016 and find some new laws recently passed by the California Legislature awaiting them. While some of these laws represent “minor tweaking” of existing labor laws and rules, others will have a profound impact on how workplaces are managed. Some laws went into effect immediately, while others will go into effect in January. New labor laws include: Holly Culhane
FAIR PAY ACT – Perhaps the “big daddy” of all the new laws is California’s Fair Pay Act, which goes into effect in January and many consider it to be the strongest wage equity law in the nation. In a nutshell, the act ensures male and female employees who perform “substantially similar” work will receive equal pay, even if their job titles differ, or if they work in different offices for the same employers. For example, unless the employer can document widely different skills and responsibilities, a hotel’s housekeepers, who
are generally women, should be paid the same as its janitors, who are generally male. A significant feature of the new California Fair Pay Act, is that it places on the employer, the burden of proving a man’s higher pay is based on factors other than gender bias. The act also protects employees from retaliation if they ask about pay disparities and discuss wages with their co-workers. Workers can complain to the state Division of Labor Standards Enforcement about perceived pay discrimination or file a lawsuit in superior court. Employers found to have violated the act can be liable for unpaid wages, interest and costs, including court and attorney’s costs. WAGE THEFT – By signing SB 588, Gov. Jerry Brown put some bite into the wage theft debate, which stems from not paying workers overtime, paying workers below minimum wage and requiring employees to “work off the books.” Considered to be the strongest in the country, existing California wage theft laws gave regulators little enforcement authority. Effective in January, the new law gives the California labor commissioner expanded authority, including the ability to place a lien on the property of an employer cited for wage theft and requires businesses to
pay a bond of at least $50,000 to $150,000 to remain open. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Labor, wage theft has cost Californians around $29 million in lost income per week. More than 300,000 wage and salary workers in California are thought to be victims of wage theft. RIGHT TO CURE – Signed into law as an urgency bill, AB 1506 already has gone into effect. This law is intended to protect employers from “predatory lawsuits” based on technical violations of the state’s wage statement laws. Basically, these laws require certain information, including an employee’s name and address, employer’s address and pay period dates, to be included on a pay stub. Before an employer can be sued over missing information, this new law gives the employer limited time and mechanisms to “cure” the omission. MEAL PERIOD WAIVERS – Another urgency bill, SB 327, was rushed through shortly before the Legislature adjourned and signed into law. It, too, already has gone into effect. It clarifies an earlier law addressing the ability of health care workers to waive, under some circumstances, their right to meal periods. The law was in response to a California court ruling earlier
this year. PAID SICK LEAVE – It’s not certain if AB 304, an urgency bill to clarify last year’s sweeping paid sick leave bill, actually brings clarity to the issue. With this law also taking effect immediately, it may have created new questions about who is covered and how California’s paid sick leave law is implemented. The original law exempted some employees, including in-home caregivers, employees covered by collective bargaining agreements, and certain workers in the air carrier and construction industries. AB 304 created new exemptions, including some for public-sector retired annuitants. Who’s in and who’s out of the coverage may be the subject of ongoing debate in 2016. As they begin a new year, employers should proactively consult with their attorneys and human resources consultants to fine-tune company policies and procedures to understand and meet the demands of these new laws. – Holly Culhane is president of the Bakersfield-based human resources consulting firm P.A.S. Associates and P.A.S. Investigations. She can be contacted through her website www.PASassociates. com and the PAS Facebook page.