Do Employment Laws in California redefine the Meaning of ‘The Golden State’? | DCR Workforce Blog

Do Employment Laws in California redefine the Meaning of ‘The Golden State’?

californiaIn some of our previous blogs, we have talked extensively about how some states in the USA have laws which expand upon those established by the Federal government. Let us look at the employment laws in California, which offers some of the nation’s strongest benefits and protections to workers. New entrants to the state’s jurisdiction as well as experienced ones must be compliant with laws which have recently changed or they may find themselves increasing the State’s gold in paid fees and fines.

Nearly all new or revised regulations increase protections for workers and employer penalties for non-compliance. They address compensation, discrimination, and worker rights.

Compensation-related regulations

  • Overtime Pay for Domestic Work: Domestic work involves providing eldercare, child care or care for the sick and disabled. Care is usually provided at home, but not in hospitals or homes for convalescents. This category also includes housekeepers and maids who work in private households. Such workers in California are eligible to receive overtime when they work for more than 9 hours in a day or for 45 hours in a week. People who are related to the employer are not entitled to overtime under this regulation. Babysitters who are either minors or who provide this service on a casual and irregular basis are also exempted from this requirement, even if it exceeds 45 hours, if the duties are primarily focused on the care of children.
  • Minimum Wage: As of July 1, 2014 non-exempt workers in California merit minimum wages of $9.00 per hour, with another hike to $10.00 envisaged effective January 1, 2016. This increase would impact the income of exempt employees in California too, as to stay exempt they will have to earn not less than twice the state’s minimum wage in a month. To stay compliant, employers need to review the salaries paid to all prior to the effective date of July 1, 2014.
  • Double Damages for Minimum Wage Violations:When an employer violates the minimum wage law, penalties can now equal double the unpaid owed plus fines and interest. The penalties can be avoided only if it can be proved that the employer acted in good faith and really believed that they were in compliance.
  • Damages to be Collected out of Employer’s Property:Any damages payable to the employees can be collected by placing a 10-year lien on the employer’s own property.

Discrimination-related Regulations:

  • More Protected Classes: The Fair Employment and Housing Act has been amended to include military personnel or veterans for protection from employment discrimination. While employers may ascertain whether an applicant belongs to these categories, they had better be cautious about how the information is used when making hiring decisions.
  • Revised Definition of Sexual Harassment:In a revised definition, a claim against sexually offensive behavior can now be made without the need to prove that it was motivated by sexual desire.
  • Added Limits to Criminal History Inquiries: The state of California already prohibits all questions with regard to arrests that did not lead to a conviction (unless the trial is pending), old arrests for possession of marijuana and “pre-arrests” in which law enforcement officers redirected low-level offenders to community-based services instead of jail and prosecution.

Now, the prohibition extends to a conviction that was judicially dismissed or ordered sealed, unless:
– the employer is required by law to inquire into such information and prohibited from hiring anyone with a criminal record for the role, or
– if a worker with a criminal record is legally prohibited from being hired for that role, or
– if the worker’s duties on the job make it necessary to handle or carry weapons or firearms, or
– if by law a person who is convicted of a crime is prohibited from being hired to that role; even if the conviction is expunged, judicially ordered sealed, statutorily eradicated or even judicially dismissed.

  • Increased Protection for Immigrants: If, within 90 days of an employee taking action under a protected right, the employer retaliates by requesting additional immigration documentation, re-checking authorization to work in the U.S., or threatening to contact or contacting immigration authorities, the employee can bring civil action and the employer may be subjected to loss of its business license.

Worker Rights Regulations:

  • Entitlement to Leaves of Absence:In California,employers, with over 50 employees, were required to allow employees who are volunteer firefighters to a maximum of fourteen days of leave of absence to engage in firefighting or law enforcement training. This requirement is now extended to employees who perform emergency duties as reserve police officers or emergency rescue personnel.
  • Protections to Victims of Stalking and Crime: Victims of domestic violence or sexual assault are protected from adverse employment action in California. The same protections are also extended to victims of stalking. Employers are required to interact with these employees and determine a reasonable accommodation to help them resolve such issues and resume a normal life. Employers do have the right to request verification of victim status before providing workplace accommodations.
  • Rights of Crime Victims Expanded: A victim of a crime needs time off to appear in court to bear witness or claim relief. Such employees may not be discharged or discriminated against in any manner by an employer. New regulations expand the types of crimes that entitle victims or plaintiffs to time off.
  • Retaliation:An employer cannot retaliate against anyone for exercising their rights under State regulations. Employees do not have to wait until all administrative steps have been exhausted prior to filing civil litigation against an employer unless specifically required under law. Employers found guilty of retaliation are subjected to a $10,000 civil fine for each violation. Employers also cannot prevent employees from disclosing information to a government or law enforcement agency if the employee believes that the employer is in violation of a state or federal law.

While the regulations listed above clearly weigh in on the side of the employee, an employer can collect attorney’s fees and costs in a wage action if it can be proved that the action is unsubstantiated and was brought in bad faith. However, the employer still must undergo difficult legal procedures that distract from business focus and undermine brands. The list of regulations in the Golden State may not be comprehensive, but definitely big enough to give us an insight into the kind of attention that needs to be paid by an employer who wishes to be compliant with employment law at the state level alone!

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.