Is your business ready for these new California laws that take effect in 2021?
California companies small and large may find that new laws hitting the books Jan. 1 could smack their bottom lines and workforces by granting more time to employees and requiring more procedures from them.
Many of these new business-oriented bills that came out of the California Assembly and Senate and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom this year deliver more clout and bargaining power to employees. Examples include laws that deliver more time and resources to employees with fewer questions asked by the companies they work for.
Many represent a new version with addendums and a strengthening to existing laws. Some dictate new rules on the easing of restrictions for employee leave and complaints. Others are related to the COVID-19 crisis, with a few making it harder for organizations to do business during its consequential economic upheaval, labor law and business advocates contend.
Minimum wage hike
Out of the starting gate, most employees in California must be paid the minimum wage of $14 an hour, according to the state Department of Industrial Relations. The law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015 has launched a wage progression each year starting Jan. 1, 2017, by adding 50 cents to the $10-per-hour standard. From the beginning of 2019, the wage has gone up by a dollar and now stands at $13 for every 60 minutes worked.
Senate Bill 1383
SB 1383 was written by Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, with the intent to expand family leave of up to 12 weeks to include small companies with five employees or more. Up to three months of family leave used to only apply to companies with 50 or more employees.
The law also extends granting time off for workers to care for siblings and grandparents as well as one’s children, parents, spouses or domestic partners. It applies to full- and part-time employees with their companies for at least one year, who have worked more than 24 hours each week.
Representing a bane for business and blessing to workers, the law was brought forth in the pre-COVID-19 days on Feb. 21.
“At a time when it’s tough for employers, it’s a shame this wasn’t put off for a year. This is going to be a shock to some employers,” said Lisa Ann Hilario, an employment law specialist with Spaulding, McCullough & Tansil in Santa Rosa. “This is just another example of something that’s well-meaning but may be a significant impact on employers. These are hard times.”
Empire College law professor Susan Daniel agreed.
“This is going to be impactful on them. Many of these companies don’t have enough people to allow employees to be out 12 weeks,” Daniel told the Business Journal. “I think this law is going to have a profound effect, even with it being unpaid.”
The California Chamber of Commerce policy advocate, Ashley Hoffman concurred.
“This law has been the biggest priority for us in terms of opposition, not just because of the qualifying reasons, but for the size of the companies (affected),” Hoffman said.
Still, the state lawmaker insists the expansion of the California Family Rights Act plays a crucial role in helping six million workers throughout the state care for family members and spouses while protecting their jobs.
“Access to family leave is especially critical amid COVID-19 when workers need to take time off to care for themselves or their loved ones. Yet without job protection, many workers fear losing their job for taking the paid family leave benefits they pay for,” Jackson said in a statement. “Job-protected family leave promotes public health, boosts economic recovery and supports working families.”
Assembly Bill 685
The impact of COVID-19 is expected to linger well into 2021, running parallel with a new law authored by Eloise Gomez Reyes, D-San Bernardino, that requires companies to tell employees within 24 hours when a worker tests positive.
It also allows the California Department of Public Health to shut down a business if the agency determines an outbreak exists.
Failure to provide adequate notifications may result in a $10,000 fine. But beyond that black-and-white result, AB 685 brings a gray area to the reporting guidelines.
Faced with cases in their workplaces, some companies have issued “gag” orders not allowing their employees to talk about positive coronavirus cases, citing federal health privacy regulations.