The chill in the autumn air can signal only one thing — new employment laws in California!  As with most years, the coming New Year brings several changes to California law that will impact the way California employers operate their day-to-day business.  Below, we summarize eight laws that go into effect in 2016.  Please do not hesitate to contact any of our employment lawyers should you need further guidance on any of these changes.

(1) Minimum Wage Increase

On January 1, 2016, California’s minimum wage will increase from $9 per hour to $10 per hour.  The minimum wage hike affects more than minimum wage-earning employees.  For example, the increase impacts, among other things, the salary test for certain overtime exemptions, notice requirements, overtime rates, meal and lodging policies, and other benefits tied to an employee’s compensation.  In addition, pursuant to already-existing law, employers must provide written notice to nonexempt employees within seven calendar days after a change is made to the employees’ rate of pay.  Finally, please recall that many cities in California have higher minimum wage requirements than the State of California.  Employers in those cities must comply with the higher rates.

(2) Gender Wage Equality

SB 358 or “The Fair Pay Act” amends Labor Code section 1197.5, which prohibits employers from paying lower wages to members of the opposite sex for “equal work” in the “same establishment.”  The new law removes the “same establishment” language and replaces the term “equal work” with “substantially similar work under similar working conditions.”  The purpose of the revisions is to mitigate the perceived challenges employees face in proving that two positions in the same office are exactly alike.

Further, the exceptions to section 1197.5 were also amended.  Most notably, for pay differentials based on a bona fide factor other than sex, the factor relied upon must be a “business necessity,” which includes differences in job related education, training, or experience.

The new law also prohibits employers from terminating or retaliating against an employee for exercising his or her rights under the law or assisting other employees in exercising their rights.  Although covered by existing statute, the law also prohibits employers from preventing employees from discussing their or others’ wages.  It also creates a private right of action for retaliation or discrimination claims with a one year statute of limitations.

(3) Whistleblower And Anti-Retaliation Protections

AB 1509 was passed to bolster existing protections for workers who engage in protected legal activities such as filing wage-related or workplace safety complaints.  In instances where multiple family members work together, the new law expressly prohibits an employer from retaliating against a family member of an employee who engages in protected activities.  The law also extends protections to contract employees by prohibiting “client employers” or “controlling employers” (e.g., a temp agency) from retaliating against an employee for engaging in protected whistleblowing activities.

(4) Reasonable Accommodation And Retaliation

In enacting AB 987, the California Legislature rejected several California Court of Appeal decisions that held that a request for accommodation by an employee based on a disability or religious belief, without more, is not a protected legal activity and cannot support a claim for retaliation.  This new law makes clear that the mere act of an employee’s request for an accommodation is a protected activity under the California Fair Housing and Employment Act, regardless of whether the request was granted.  Existing protections for employees with actual or perceived disabilities remain in place.

(5) Unlawful Use of E-Verify

AB 622 will expand what constitutes impermissible use of the federal E-Verify system. The law makes it illegal for an employer to use the E-Verify system to check the employment authorization status of any current employee or applicant who has not yet been offered employment, except where specifically required by federal law.  The bill is intended to curb potential discrimination in hiring.  In addition to other remedies available, the bill provides for a $10,000 civil penalty for each impermissible use of the E-Verify system.

(6) School Activities Leave

SB 579 expands Labor Code section 230.8, which requires employers with 25 or more employees to grant employees who are parents or legal guardians 40 hours each year to engage in activities at their child’s school.  The new law changes all references to “child day care facilities” to “child care providers,” while also broadening the definition of parent to include, stepparents, foster parents, and grandparents, among others.  Additionally, the law now covers time spent by employees responding to school emergencies or trying to find a school or child care facility for their children.

(7) Kin Care

SB 579 also amends Labor Code section 233, commonly referred to as California’s “kin care” law.  Currently, employees may use up to half of their accrued sick leave to care for family members as defined by the statute.  The amendment brings section 233 in line with the Paid Sick Leave law, meaning that employees will be able to use all of their paid sick leave to care for an illness or provide preventative care for covered family members, including children, parents, spouse, domestic partner, grandparents and siblings.

(8) Wage Garnishment

Effective July 1, 2016, SB 501 will reduce the maximum amount of an individual debtor’s weekly wages that can be garnished.  The maximum amount that may be garnished will be the lesser of (1) 25% of the individual’s weekly disposable income; or (2) 50% of the amount by which the individual’s disposable earnings for the week exceed 40 times the state or applicable local minimum wage.

Keesal, Young & Logan Employment Group

This information has been prepared by Keesal, Young & Logan for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between you and Keesal, Young & Logan. You should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.