The Press-Enterprise - December 31, 2013
As the new year dawns and we all make resolutions we are bound to forget by March, the California Legislature has passed new laws for 2014 affecting your business that you cannot afford to ignore. Business owners should work with their human resources personnel and legal counsel to determine which laws apply to them. Several of the most notable laws, many involving wages, discrimination, harassment and sun-protected breaks for outdoor workers, are highlighted here.
An amendment to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act adds “military and veteran status” to the list of categories of people protected from employment discrimination. The law does, however, allow employers to ask applicants or current employees about military or veteran status if they want to give preference to a veteran, as permitted by law. Another amendment to the Act clarifies that an individual who sues for sexual harassment does not have to prove that the sexually harassing conduct was motivated by sexual desire.
In the wage and hour arena, several new laws take effect. Perhaps most notably, businesses need to prepare for the minimum wage increase on July 1 to $9 per hour and to $10 per hour sixteen months later.
If an employer violates minimum wage laws, the California Labor Commissioner can now award additional damages to employees in an amount equal to the unpaid wages, plus interest. Moreover, once a Labor Commissioner decision becomes final, a lien will now be created that can be recorded in any county in which the employer owns real property. The lien will continue until satisfied or released, or for 10 years.
Another amendment to the Labor Code makes it clear that written or oral complaints by an employee about wages he believes he is owed is a protected activity, and that an employer cannot retaliate against the employee based on such complaints.
Under current industrial safety orders, employers must provide outside workers a break under the shade when the temperature reaches 85 degrees or if requested by an employee. Employers must also allow and encourage employees to take a cool-down rest period in the shade for no less than five minutes whenever employees feel the need to protect themselves from over-heating. New law takes this a step further and obligates an employer to pay an additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular pay rate for each workday that an employee does not receive a “recovery period.”
In the leave and benefit arena, California’s Paid Family Leave benefits will be expanded beginning July 1 to include time off to care for a seriously ill grandparent, grandchild, sibling or parent-in-law.
Laws prohibiting discharge, discrimination and retaliation against employees who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault have been extended to employees who are known or suspected victims of stalking. New law also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for such victims, which may include implementing safety measures or procedures.
Employers are also now prohibited from discriminating or retaliating against employees who are crime victims or who are the spouse, parent, child, sibling or guardian of the crime victim, for taking time off work to attend court proceedings involving the victim’s rights.
New immigration-related legislation prohibits employers from engaging in “unfair immigration-related practices,” meaning an employer may not threaten to contact or contact immigration authorities because an employee complains that he was paid less than the minimum wage. Employers will not be subject to penalties for requiring an employee to verify eligibility for employment under Form I-9, but if it is determined that an employer retaliated against an employee by making a report or threatening to report his or his family members’ citizenship or immigration status, the employer’s business license may be suspended or revoked.
Finally, a person who threatens to report the immigration status or suspected immigration status of an individual or a member of his family may be charged with criminal extortion.
* This article was originally published in The Press-Enterprise on Dec. 28, 2013. Republished with permission.