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Here’s what California employers need to know about new laws taking effect in 2022

A new year will bring new laws for businesses to follow, including higher minimum wages, increased workplace safety and expanded family leave.

For starters, California’s minimum wage on Jan. 1 will increase to $15 per hour for businesses with 26 or more employees, and $14 per hour for companies employing 25 or fewer workers. The graduated minimum wage hikes were signed into law in 2015 by then-Gov. Jerry Brown.

Some jurisdictions, however, have their own laws in place that already exceed the higher minimum wage laws about to take effect.

“Every year, California and local cities change their minimum wages,” said Lisa Ann Hilario, an employment law specialist at Santa Rosa-based Spaulding McCullough & Tansil. “From a pocketbook perspective,” the minimum wage hikes make the biggest dent in a company’s expenses, she added.

“Those (minimum wage) rates apply if an employee works (remotely) more than two hours a week.” —Lisa Ann Hilario, Spaulding McCullough & Tansil

And what’s unique to the pandemic age that’s under the radar, the minimum wage standard must apply to where employees live and conduct remote work, not where a company’s headquarters is located. For example, the rate in Petaluma and Santa Rosa is $15.85 in 2022. The city of Sonoma’s rate is set at $16 for large employers and coincides with the state’s rate for small firms.

“Those (minimum wage) rates apply if an employee works (remotely) more than two hours a week,” Hilario said.

AB 1066: Agricultural field worker overtime

One of the more pressing wage laws for the North Bay business community, especially in wine country, is Assembly Bill 1066, which changes overtime rules for agricultural field workers.

The law, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, was signed into law in Sept. 2016 by then-Gov. Jerry Brown. The legislation, also known as the Phase-In Overtime for Agricultural Workers Act of 2016, took three years to go into effect to allow companies time to adjust to the new rules.

Workers outside of the agricultural industry already receive the standard 1½ times overtime pay above eight hours a day or 40 hours a week, while field ag workers get that bonus pay after 10 hours a day or 60 hours a week.

But starting Jan. 1, employers in the agricultural industry with 26 or more workers on their payrolls will be required to pay the surplus over eight hours a day. Plus, the law mandates a double-time rate above 12 hours per workday.

“This is the big change affecting business — although they knew it was coming,” Hilario said.

Employers with 25 or fewer employees must pay the overtime after 9½ hours are worked. In another three years, on Jan. 1, 2025, these employers will have to pay overtime above eight hours a day worked, and double time for more than 12 hours in a workday.

To Max Bell Alper, executive director of North Bay Jobs with Justice, these labor-favoring laws such as AB 1066 represent part of a bigger equation and a movement that props up the worker.

“The reality is, the time has come to stop treating farm workers as second-class workers. It’s really wrong to still have vestiges of racism codified into law,” Bell Alper said, referring to the high concentration of people of color working in the agricultural industry. “The signal here is, those days are over.”

SB 639: Minimum wage for workers with disabilities

The minimum wage requirement for disabled workers also will change on Jan. 1 under Senate Bill 639, brought forth by Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, and signed into law in July.

The law phases out the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities starting in January, with no special licenses granted to companies receiving those concessions to pay less. Three years later, the minimum wage mandate would be effective for all workers.

According to the state Council on Developmental Disabilities, more than 12,000 Californians with disabilities have been working for less than minimum wage, with some workers with disabilities currently earning less than $2 per hour are doing menial work.

SB 606: Cal/OSHA citations for multiple job sites

On the workplace safety front, a new law going into effect Jan. 1, Senate Bill 606, will particularly affect companies with multiple locations or jobsites by expanding the power of Cal/OSHA to cite companies for violations that occur at one location but apply it all of a company’s locations — even if each location has a different policy. Under the legislation, companies can dispute the citations, but if Cal/OSHA prevails, it will have the authority to cite the entire business with penalties north of $134,000 per violation.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 27 signed the bill, which was authored by Sen. Lena Gonzalez, D-Long Beach.

The California Chamber of Commerce has opposed SB 606 because it gives Cal/OSHA wider enforcement power, while labor unions support the legislation, which is expected to largely impact the construction and manufacturing industries, as well as big-box retailers.

Expanded family leave, withheld wages

Here are other notable legislation taking effect the first day of 2022.

Assembly Bill 1033: The legislation includes caring for a worker’s parents-in-law in addition to their own parents to the list of eligible reasons to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the California Family Rights Act.

The bill, authored by Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, D-San Ramon, was signed into law in September.

Assembly Bill 1003: The legislation makes the intentional theft of wages, including gratuities, benefits or compensation in the amount greater than $950 for one employee or more than $2,350 for two or more employees in a consecutive 12-month period punishable as grand theft under the California Penal Code, which prosecutors may charge as a misdemeanor or felony.

Under the penal code, independent contractors also are considered employees and the hiring entities of independent contractors are considered employers.

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