2017 Labor & Employment Legislative Update: It’s Finally Over! (For Now…)

by Seyfarth Shaw LLP
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Seyfarth Synopsis: New statutory obligations for California employers in 2018 will include prohibitions on inquiries into applicants’ salary and conviction histories, expanding CFRA to employees of smaller employers, expansion of mandatory harassment training to include content on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, and new immigration-related restrictions and obligations.

California Governor Jerry Brown spent his last day to sign bills in this Legislative Session, October 15, approving and rejecting a number of employment-related bills. Below is our annual summary of those bills that will have—or would have had —the greatest impact on California employers. All approved bills become effective January 1, 2018, unless stated otherwise. Watch this blog for in-depth pieces on the bills below that will pose the most challenges for employers.

APPROVED

Salary Inquiry Ban. After two unsuccessful attempts, AB 168 received the Governor’s approval to make it unlawful in California law for employers, including state and local governments, to ask applicants about their prior salary, compensation, and benefits. The employer may consider prior salary information the applicant voluntarily and without prompting discloses, in setting pay. Don’t forget that Labor Code section 1197.5 already prohibits an employer from using an applicant’s salary history, by itself, to justify a pay disparity. AB 168 will also require employers to provide the position’s pay scale to a job applicant upon reasonable request. Read our in-depth piece on AB 168, and practical implications, here. Adds Section 432.3 to the Labor Code.

Meanwhile, yesterday the Governor vetoed the other pay equity bill we were watching, Gender Pay Gap Transparency Act, AB 1209. More on that bill below.

Ban-the-Box: Prior Conviction History of Applicants. With the approval of AB 1008, the Governor and California Legislature have created yet another protected class of individuals entitled to sue employers under the Fair Employment and Housing Act: applicants denied employment because of their conviction history, where the employer is unable to justify relying on that conviction history to deny employment. AB 1008 makes it unlawful for an employer to include questions seeking disclosure of an applicant’s criminal history on any employment application, inquire or consider the conviction history of an applicant before extending a conditional offer employment, or consider or distribute specified criminal history information in conducting a conviction history background check. If an employer intends to deny a position solely or in part because of the applicant’s prior conviction, the employer must make an individualized assessment of whether the applicant’s conviction history has a direct and adverse relationship with the duties of the job, consider certain topics, and allow the applicant to dispute the accuracy of the conviction history. Read our in-depth analysis, implications, and tips, of the “Scarlet Letter Act” here. Adds Section 12952 to the Government Code, and repeals Section 432.9 of the Labor Code.

New Parent Leave Act and Parental Leave DFEH Mediation Pilot Program SB 63 extends CFRA’s protections to smaller employers (with at least 20 employees within 75 miles) and prohibits those employers from refusing to allow employees—with more than 12 months and at least 1,250 hours of service—to take up to 12 weeks of parental leave to bond with a new child within one year of the child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement. An employer employing both parents who both are entitled to leave for the same child does need not give more than 12 weeks of leave total to the employees (which may be granted simultaneously if the employer chooses). Further, an employer can recover the costs of maintaining the health plan for employees that do not to return to work after their leave exhausts because of a reason other than a serious health condition or other circumstances beyond the employee’s control. Beginning January 1, 2018 and ending January 1, 2020, the DFEH, after receiving funding from the Legislature, will create a parental leave mediation pilot program under which an employer may request all parties to participate in mediation within 60 days of receiving a right-to-sue notice. This bill prohibits an employee from pursuing any civil action under these provisions (and tolls the statute of limitations) until the mediation is complete, meaning when either party elects not to participate, withdraws from mediation, or notifies the DFEH that further mediation would be fruitless. Adds Section 12945.6 to the Government Code.

Retaliation: Expanding The Labor Commissioner’s Authority. With the Governor’s October 3 approval of SB 306, the DLSE will be authorized to investigate an employer—with or without a complaint being filed—when, during a wage claim or other investigation, the Labor Commissioner suspects retaliation or discrimination. The bill will also allow the Labor Commissioner or an employee to seek injunctive relief (that the employee be reinstated pending resolution of the claim) upon a mere finding of “reasonable cause” that a violation of the law has occurred. That injunctive relief, however, would not prohibit an employer from disciplining or firing an employee for conduct that is unrelated to the retaliation claim. The bill also authorizes the Labor Commissioner to issue citations directing specific relief to persons determined to be responsible for violations and to create certain procedural requirements.

Immigration: Worksite Enforcement Actions. AB 450, the “Immigrant Worker Protection Act,” prohibits employers from allowing immigration enforcement agents to have access to non-public areas of a workplace, absent a judicial warrant, and prohibits immigration enforcement agents to access, review, or obtain employee records without a subpoena or court order, subject to a specified exception. This bill requires an employer to provide notice of an immigration agency’s inspection of I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms or other employment records within 72 hours of receiving the federal notice of inspection—using a template created by the Labor Commissioner—to current employees; requires an employer to provide affected employees (i.e., those who may lack work authorization or whose documents have deficiencies) a copy of the inspection notice, upon reasonable request; and requires employers to provide affected current employees, and their authorized representative, a copy of the immigration agency inspection results and written notice of the obligations of the employer and the affected employee arising from the action. The bill grants exclusive authority to the Labor Commissioner or Attorney General to enforce these provisions and requires that any penalty recovered be deposited in the Labor Enforcement and Compliance Fund. Penalties for failure to satisfy these prohibitions and for failure to provide the required notices are: $2,000 up to $5,000 for a first violation, and $5,000 up to $10,000 for each further violation. The Labor Commission may recover up to a $10,000 penalty for each instance an employer re-verifies the employment eligibility of a current employee at a time or in a manner not required by federal law. Stay tuned for a detailed analysis of AB 450 coming soon. Adds Sections 7285.1, 7285.2, and 7285.3 to the Government Code; adds Sections 90.2 and 1019.2 to the Labor Code.

Harassment Training: Gender Identity, Gender Expression, and Sexual Orientation.  SB 396 will require employers with 50 or more employees to add items to already mandated biennial supervisory training to prevent sexual harassment. The new content must include practical examples to address harassment based on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. Employers must also post a DFEH-developed poster regarding transgender rights. The bill also makes changes to the Unemployment Insurance Code. Amends Sections 12950 and 12950.1 of the Government Code.

VETOED

Gender Pay Gap Transparency Act. AB 1209 would (as of July 2019) have required employers with at least 500 California employees to collect information on differences in pay between male and female exempt employees and between male and female Board members. The bill would have required employers to submit the information to the California Secretary of State by July 1, 2020, in a form consistent with Labor Code § 1197.5, and to provide an update to the Secretary of State every two years. The bill would have required the Secretary to publish the information on a public website if the Legislature provided it with sufficient funding. Yesterday the Governor vetoed the bill, stating—as many employers’ groups had pointed out—that the bill’s ambiguous wording made it unclear that the bill would “provide data that will meaningfully contribute to efforts to close the gender wage gap. Indeed, I am worried that this ambiguity could be exploited to encourage more litigation than pay equity.” He also cited the trust he has placed in his Pay Equity Task Force to provide guidance and recommendations to “assist companies around the state with assessing their current wage practices.” For more detail on implications of this bill had it passed, click through to our in-depth analysis on AB 1209.

Reproductive Health. The Governor vetoed AB 569 on October 15, stating that the FEHA “has long banned such [reproductive health-based] adverse actions, except for religious institutions. I believe those types of claims should remain within the jurisdiction of the [DFEH].” The bill would have added a provision to the Labor Code prohibiting an employer from taking adverse employment action against an employee or the employee’s dependents or family members for their reproductive health decisions, including the use of any drug, device, or medical service (e.g., birth control, abortions, or in vitro fertilization). An employer that violates this prohibition would have been subject to penalties under Labor Code § 98.6, as well as reinstatement, reimbursement of lost wages and interest, and other appropriate compensation or equitable relief. This bill would have prohibited employers from attempting to contract out of these requirements, by making null and void any express or implied agreement waiving these requirements. The bill would have required employers to include a notice of these employee rights and remedies in their handbooks.

Employee Request: Injury and Illness Prevention Program. AB 978 would have required an employer to provide a free copy of the company’s injury prevention program to an employee, or their representative, within 10 days of receiving a written request. A representative would have included a recognized or certified collective bargaining agent, attorney, health and safety professional, nonprofit organization, or immediate family member. AB 978 would have allowed an employer to take reasonable steps to verify the identity or the person making the written request and authorized an employer to assert impossibility of performance as an affirmative defense against allegations of violations of these provisions. Governor Brown found this bill to be “unnecessary and duplicative” of current regulatory proposals sitting with the Cal-OSHA Standards Board and noted that their advisory committee would be “better suited to determine how to properly implement requirements of this kind.”

BILLS THAT FAILED TO MAKE THE LEGISLATIVE CUT

Opportunity to Work Act. The notorious AB 5 would have required employers with 10 or more employees in California to offer additional hours of work to existing nonexempt employees before the employer could hire additional or temporary employees. This bill piggy-backed on the San Jose voter-approved Opportunity to Work Ordinance that, effective March 2017, would have required employers to offer part-time employees additional hours before hiring new or temporary employees. Read more on what AB 5 would have implemented herehere, and watch here.

Rest Breaks. AB 817 would have created an exception to Labor Code section 226.7’s off-duty “rest period” requirement for employers providing emergency medical services to the public. The bill would have allowed EMS employers to require their employees to monitor and respond to emergency response calls during rest or recovery periods without penalty, so long as the rest period is rescheduled.

Retail Employees: Holiday Overtime. AB 1173 would have established an employee-selected overtime exemption that would have allowed a “retail industry” employee to work up to 10 hours per day with no overtime pay during the holiday season (November through January). Overtime paid at time and one-half of the employee’s regular pay rate would have applied to over 40 hours worked in a workweek or 10 in a work day; double time would have applied to work over 12 hours per day and over eight hours on the fifth, sixth, or seventh day in a workweek. The bill would have required employees to submit a written request for the flexible work schedule for approval by the employer. The authors of this bill did not specifically define what “retail industry” would have meant.

Overtime Compensation: Executive, Administrative, or Professional Employees. AB 1565 would have exempted an executive, administrative, or professional employee from overtime compensation if the employee earns a monthly salary of $3,956 or at least twice the state minimum wage for full-time employment, whichever is greater. This bill would have had California follow President Obama’s FLSA regulations increasing the yearly salary exempt threshold from $23,660 to $47,476 for executive, administrative, and professional workers. (Those regulations have been enjoined by a federal court.)

Health Professional Interns: Minimum Wage. AB 387 would have broadened the definition of employers required to pay minimum wage to include anyone who employs any person engaged in supervised work experience (i.e., students working clinical hours) to satisfy the requirements for licensure, registration, or certification as an allied health professional. This bill would have applied only to a work experiences longer than 100 hours and would not have applied to employers with fewer than 25 allied health professionals or a primary care clinic.

Resident Apartment Manager Wages. AB 543 would have extended an exemption from Industrial Welfare Commission orders allowing employers, who do not charge rent to a resident apartment manager pursuant to a voluntary agreement, to apply up to one-half of the apartment’s fair market value (no value cap) to meet minimum wage obligations to the apartment manager. This was up from the two-thirds previously provided but capped at $564.81 per month for singles, $835.49 for couples.

Voluntary Veterans’ Preference Employment Policy Act. Both AB 353 and its almost identical twin AB 1477 hoped to revise FEHA’s existing Vietnam-Era veterans’ status provision but failed to make it out of both houses and out of the house of origin, respectively. The bills would have expanded a private employer’s authority to institute and uniformly grant a hiring preference for veterans regardless of where the veteran served. The bills stated that the hiring preference would not have violated FEHA or any local or state equal opportunity employment law or regulation. But the bill would have prohibited the use of a veterans’ preference policy for the purpose of discrimination on the basis of any protected classification.

Credit and Debit Card Gratuities. AB 1099 would have required an entity—defined as “an organization that uses online-enabled applications or platforms to connect workers with customers … including, but not limited to, a transportation network company” (e.g., Uber)—o to accept tips by credit or debit cards if the entity allows customers to pay with credit or debit cards. The bill would have required that the tip be paid to the worker the next regular payday following the date the customer authorized the card payment. This bill made it out of the Assembly but the author canceled its hearing in the Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations so we may see this bill again next year.

Labor Organizations: Compulsory Fee Payments. AB 1174 would have established the “California Right to Work Act of 2017” to prohibit a requirement that employees pay into a labor union, charity, or other third party as a condition of employment or continuing employment. This bill would have made California part of the list of 28 other Right to Work states in the nation.

Employer Liability: Small Business and Microbusiness. AB 442 would have prohibited Cal OSHA from bringing any “nonserious violation” against small business or microbusiness employers without first notifying the employer of the violation and the right to cure within 30 days. This safe harbor would not have applied to any willful violation. The impact of this bill would have been far reaching—nearly 70% of California employers employ only a handful of employees.

Good Faith Defense: Employment Violations. SB 524 would have allowed an employer to raise an affirmative defense that, at the time of an alleged violation, the employer was acting in good faith when relying upon a valid published DLSE opinion letter or enforcement policy. This bill would not have applied to the DLSE’s prosecution of payment of unpaid wages.

PAGA: 2017’s Three Failed Efforts. 

AB 281 attempted to reform PAGA by (1) requiring an actual injury for an aggrieved employee to be awarded civil penalties, (2) excluding health and safety violations from the employer right to cure provisions, and (3) increasing employers’ cure period to 65 calendar days, up from 33.

AB 1429 would have limited the violations an aggrieved employee can bring, required the employee to follow specific procedures prior to filing suit, limited civil penalties recoverable to $10,000 per claimant and excluded the recovery of filing fees, and required the superior court to review any penalties sought as part of a settlement agreement.

AB 1430 would have required the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (“LWDA”) to investigate alleged Labor Code violations and issue a citation or determination regarding a reasonable basis for a claim within 120 calendar days; and allow an employee private action only after the LWDA’s reasonable basis notification or the expiration of the 120 day period. Read our further analysis of the proposed PAGA amendments here.

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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