With the New Year comes a number of new laws, including several that will affect California employers.  Employers should include on their list of resolutions a review of the company’s policies and procedures to ensure compliance.  Here is a summary of just a few of the employment laws that will go into effect when the ball drops on January 1, 2014:

Fair Employment and Housing Act Extends Protections to Veterans:  AB 556 adds “military and veteran status” to the list of protected categories under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which prevents discrimination by employers, labor organizations and employment agencies.  “Military and veteran status” is defined as a member or veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces, U.S. Armed Forces Reserve, U.S. National Guard and California National Guard.  The new law includes an exemption for employer inquiries regarding military or veteran status for the purpose of awarding a veteran preference as permitted by law.

Sexual Harassment Need Not be Motivated by Sexual Desire:  SB 292 amends FEHA’s definition of sexual harassment to clarify that it doesn’t need to be motivated by sexual desire.  The new law expands protections for employees by specifically stating that sexual harassment doesn’t require proof of sexual desire and may occur regardless of the sexual orientation or intent of the harasser.  SB 292 further expands the definition of sexual harassment to include threats of sexual violence.

Expansion of Whistleblower Retaliation Protections:  SB 496 expands whistleblower protections by amending Labor Code section 1102.5, which provides security from retaliation to employees that report employers for an alleged violation of federal or state statutes, to include local rules and regulations.  SB 496 also prevents retaliation against an employee because the employer believes that the employee disclosed or may disclose information.

Strengthened Labor Code Protections for All Employees:  AB 263 will amend Section 98.6 of the Labor Code to prohibit employers from discharging, discriminating, retaliating or taking any adverse action against employees or applicants for asserting rights or engaging in conduct protected by law.  AB 263 also authorizes penalties against employers of up to $10,000 per employee for each instance of retaliation and institutes a private right of action.  SB 666 clarifies that employees are not required to exhaust their administrative remedies before bringing a civil claim, unless the claim is one that specifically requires exhaustion.

Increased Protections for Immigrant Workers:  A number of new laws will enlarge protections for employees, especially immigrant workers.  For example, as noted above, AB 263 will amend Labor Code section 98.6 to state that an employer may not threaten to report an employee to immigration officials if the employee complains about unsafe working conditions or wage violations.  SB 666 strengthens these retaliation protections by authorizing the state to suspend or revoke the business license of an employer who reports or threatens to report an employee’s immigration status.  However, requiring an employee to verify eligibility for employment by completing a Form I-9 does not constitute immigration-related retaliation.  Additionally, under the provisions of AB 60, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will begin to issue driver licenses to undocumented people upon proof of identity and California residency.  These licenses will bear the abbreviation “DP” for driving privilege, rather than “DL” for driver license, and will include a notice that the license is not official for federal identification.  Thus, the licenses cannot be used to verify eligibility for employment, such as verification on Form I-9.  The provisions of AB 60 don’t go into effect until the DMV’s director executes a specified declaration or January 1, 2015, whichever is sooner.

Overtime Pay for In-Home Workers:  Employers who have employees who provide in-home services need to pay particular attention to AB 241— the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights.  The new law requires employers of personal attendants, those who spend a significant amount of time caring for the elderly, children or the disabled, to pay overtime for hours worked in excess of nine hours in a day or 45 hours in a week.  The provisions do not apply to close family members, children under the age of 18 or casual babysitters.  The law will expire after three years—on January 1, 2017—unless it is renewed by the Legislature. 

Minimum Wage Increase:  AB 10 raises California’s minimum wage for the first time in more than five years.  The increase will occur in two separate one-dollar increments. On July 1, 2014, the state’s minimum wage will increase from its current $8 per hour to $9 per hour.  On January 1, 2016, it will raise to $10 per hour.  The minimum wage increase will affect the minimum pay that exempt, salaried employees must receive.  (See: New Wage Laws Impact Classification)

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