Increasingly Complex Local Employment Regulations in California Require Ongoing Monitoring

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In addition to California’s expansive statewide employment laws, employers must also stay up-to-date on a quickly growing body of local employment regulations. We’ve covered specific local regulations on this blog in the past, but the following are the top local employment ordinances that can trip up employers’ compliance efforts.

Minimum Wage Ordinances

Many California localities have gone above and beyond the statewide minimum wage by enacting their own local minimum wage ordinances. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of localities that have enacted their own local minimum wage ordinances at the time of publishing of this post:

Southern California

Northern California

Many of these cities set separate rates for small versus large employers and provide limited exceptions for certain industries, as well as have planned incremental future increases, so be sure to check municipal websites for details and continue to do so periodically to stay compliant.

“Hero Pay”

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a host of local regulations, many of which affect employers, including the new and growing phenomenon of “hero pay.” For example, on February 2, 2021, the Oakland City Council unanimously approved an emergency ordinance requiring that front-line employees of large grocery stores must be paid an additional $5.00 per hour until the pandemic subsides.

Other municipalities, including, but not necessarily limited to, Long Beach, West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Montebello, Coachella, San Jose, San Leandro, Berkeley, Los Angeles County, and Santa Clara County have also implemented or are working towards implementation of similar ordinances. These ordinances primarily only apply to large grocery stores for now, but there is some discussion about expanding this type of pay to other “essential” jobs, such as warehouse employees and distribution chain employees. While some grocers have brought lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of these ordinances, it will likely be some time before we know the outcome of those cases. In the meantime, we expect to see more similar “hero pay” ordinances being passed across the state.

Paid Sick Leave

In addition to California’s statewide Paid Sick Leave Law, at least seven California cities have enacted their own local version of a sick leave ordinance (Berkeley, Emeryville, Los Angeles City, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, and Santa Monica). These local sick leave rules differ in material respects from the statewide rules. For example:

  • All permit policies allowing employee accrual at the rate of one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked, but only four cities permit some form of the “lump sum” method, and even these lump-sum method rules vary from city-to-city and vary from the statewide method.
  • All local sick leave ordinances also contain some type of accrual cap, but these caps vary by city and in some instances, by employer size.
  • Some cities permit use caps while others prohibit them.
  • Eligibility and permitted use rules vary from city-to-city.

These only represent some of the distinctions in city sick leave ordinances, and employers must carefully review the local sick leave ordinances if they operate in any of these seven cities.

Supplemental Paid Sick Leave During The COVID-19 Pandemic

As we blogged about yesterday, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) leave rules that provided supplemental paid sick leave for COVID-19 related reasons expired on December 31, 2020, then were renewed (with changes) and extended through the American Rescue Act Plan of 2021. However, a number of California locales (Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, San Mateo, Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, Los Angeles City and County, Long Beach and San Diego, to name a few) have extended their local supplemental paid sick leave ordinances and are continuing to do so as the pandemic wears on. Many of these ordinances only apply to large employers with 500 or more employees. Most of these ordinances require full-time employees of covered employers to be provided with 80 hours of paid sick leave for COVID-related reasons, with pro-rated amounts for part-time employees, but the details of these rules vary from city-to-city, and sunset dates are idiosyncratic and periodically extended. Employers should be sure to regularly check municipal websites to stay up-to-date on this constantly evolving area of pandemic regulation.

COVID-19 “Back to Work” Ordinances

San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Clara, Los Angeles City and County, Long Beach, Pasadena, and San Diego, all have enacted some form of “Back to Work” or “Right of Recall” ordinance, which generally requires covered employers to offer to re-hire employees who were previously laid-off due to COVID-19 reasons if they re-fill the same or similar positions, based principally on seniority. The specifics of these ordinances (including the industries to which they apply, the workers protected, and the form and content of the notice to employees that is required) vary. Many of these ordinances have been extended as the pandemic persists, so specific analysis and ongoing monitoring is required to maintain compliance.

Other Ordinances

It’s impossible to cover all of the local ordinances being passed every week in California cities, so employers should check municipal websites regularly in the cities where they operate to see what, if any, other employer regulations might apply.

For example, San Francisco has a Retail Workers Bill of Rights that requires chain stores to offer extra work hours to current part-time employees before hiring new employees, give part-time employees the same starting pay as full-time employees, notify and retain employees during change of ownership, and provide advance notice of schedule changes, plus provide predictability pay where inadequate notice is provided. Other cities like San Jose, Emeryville, and Los Angeles all have similar regulations.

San Francisco also has a Bay Area Commuter Benefits Ordinance, a San Francisco Commuter Benefits Ordinance, a Health Care Security Ordinance, and a Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance. While most cities do not have the extensive regulation that San Francisco enjoys, Los Angeles did pick up its own commuter benefits law at the outset of 2020.

Conclusion

In summary, if your company didn’t have enough to worry about during the lingering pandemic, it also must monitor all city websites where it employs workers to stay abreast of these changing patchwork of employment regulations.

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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