This article is Part 2 of a two-part series regarding new federal and California employment laws.

Commuter Benefits – SB 1339

Private-sector employers with operations in San Francisco and more than 20 employees anywhere in the country already must comply with a “commute benefits” ordinance. Covered businesses must offer to San Francisco employees a pre-tax deduction of up to $125 each month to pay for covered commute expenses; a monthly subsidy equivalent to the price of the San Francisco Muni Fast Pass (currently $74/month); or a company-funded bus or van between employee home and business locations.

SB 1339 authorizes the Metropolitan Transport Commission and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to adopt a new ordinance applicable to employers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area jurisdiction of the District. The law will require covered employers with a minimum of 50 employees to offer commuter benefits similar to those already required in San Francisco.

Wage Garnishments – AB 1775

This law takes effect on July 1, 2013. AB 1775 increases the amount of wages exempt from an “earnings withholding order” or garnishment. The maximum amount that can be garnished under federal law is the lesser of 25% of an individual’s weekly “disposable earnings” or the amount by which the individual’s disposable earnings for the week exceed 30 times the federal minimum hourly wage. The new California standard defines “disposable earnings” as the portion of an individual’s earnings that remains after deducting all amounts required to be withheld by law. The maximum deduction is the lesser of 25% of an individual’s weekly disposable earnings or the amount by which the individual’s disposable earnings for the week exceed 40 times the California minimum hourly wage. The California minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum. Combined with the higher multiplier, the California standard will result in smaller garnishments.

Breastfeeding Protected Under the FEHA – AB 2386

California law (Labor Code Sections 1030-33) already requires employers to permit employees to express breast milk. AB 2386 revises the California Fair Employment and Housing Act’s (“FEHA”) definition of “sex” to include breastfeeding and medical conditions related to breastfeeding. Therefore, it is unlawful to discriminate against an employee because she breastfeeds, or because she has a medical condition associated with breastfeeding.

Greater Protections for Religious Creed – AB 1964

AB 1964 revises the FEHA to include “religious dress practice” and “religious grooming practice” to the existing protections against religious discrimination. “Religious dress practice” is broadly construed “to include the wearing or carrying of religious clothing, head or fact coverings, jewelry, artifacts, and any other item that is part of the observance by an individual of his or her religious creed.” “Religious grooming practice” is broadly construed “to include all forms of head, facial, and body hair that are part of the observance by an individual of his or her religious creed.” Additionally, the duty to provide a reasonable accommodation for religious practices applies to religious artifacts and jewelry.

Social Media – AB 1844

AB 1844 adds Section 980 to the Labor Code. The new law prohibits employers and universities from requiring or requesting employees or job applicants to disclose their user names or account passwords, or access or divulge personal social media. However, the law does not prohibit employers from accessing social media in connection with a workplace investigation. It also allows employers to require employees’ passwords to access employer-issued electronic devices.

Human Trafficking – SB 1193

SB 1193 requires certain businesses, including hospital emergency rooms, truck stops, airports, and holders of liquor licenses, to post a notice that contains information related to slavery and human trafficking. The California Attorney General’s office will develop a model notice.

Retirement Savings Plans – SB 1234

SB 1234 will require private sector employers with at least 5 employees to offer a payroll deposit retirement savings arrangement to allow eligible employees to contribute a portion of their salary or wages to a retirement savings account in the program. The statute only applies to California workers who do not have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan. It will become effective after the newly created “Board” implements the statute’s requirements.

Workers’ Compensation – SB 863

SB 863 is a workers’ compensation reform bill. It makes significant revisions to various workers’ compensation statutes. The details generally will affect they way insurers and health care providers in the workers’ compensation system operate, and the benefits offered to injured workers. Employers should consult with their workers’ compensation insurers and brokers for more detailed information.

Governor’s Reorganization Plan No. 2

The Governor’s Reorganization Plan No. 2 eliminates the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (“FEHC”) and creates the Fair Employment and Housing Council (the “Council”) under the auspices of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”). The Council will consist of seven gubernatorial appointees with the power to issue regulations. The DFEH may bring civil actions on behalf of complainants, but only after attempting to resolve the matter through an ADR process (e.g., mediation) first. The DFEH also will be able to recover attorneys’ fees and costs in successful civil actions.

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