A raft of new employment laws take effect on January 1, 2020. To help employers prioritize the many required changes to policies, forms, and procedures, we provide a non-exhaustive list of matters requiring employers’ attention by year’s end.  This discussion may not take into account special exceptions contained in the laws, and is not a substitute for legal advice tailored to a particular situation.

Internal Processes

AB 5 entirely revamps laws governing independent contractors. Employers must determine whether to modify contractual relationships, or convert independent contractors to employee status. 

The state’s minimum wage increases to $13.00 per hour on January 1, 2020; $12.00 for employers of 25 or fewer employees.  Local minimum wages may be higher. The minimum wage change requires employers to review “white collar” exempt employees’ salaries. These exemptions require minimum salaries of at least two times the state minimum wage under California law.  Separately, the minimum salary for the computer software employee exemption increases to $96,968.33 (or $46.55/hourly). 

Employers must ensure space for employee lactation complies with SB 142’s significant changes. Certain smaller employers that can demonstrate significant difficulty or expense may be exempt from these requirements, but still must make reasonable efforts to provide a private location other than a toilet stall for employees to express milk.  SB 142 also mandates a legally sufficient lactation accommodation policy.

AB 25 temporarily (through December 31, 2020) exempts from the California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”) certain personal information covered employers obtain from applicants and employees.  However, covered employers still must protect non-employment-related personal information under the CCPA’s general provisions. As to employment-related personal information, employers must provide sufficient notice to applicants and employees of the categories of personal information to be collected and the purposes for which it will be used. Employers also must implement reasonable security procedures and practices to safeguard personal information.    

Employers who offer flexible spending accounts (including dependent care spending accounts, health flexible spending accounts, and adoption assistance flexible spending accounts) must create a process to notify participating employees of any deadline to withdraw funds before the end of the plan year (AB 1554).

Policy/Employee Handbook Changes

Employers should review dress and grooming policies to ensure compliance with.SB 188. The new law prohibits discrimination against applicants or employees based on traits historically associated with race, including hair texture and hairstyles including braids, locks, and twists

Given AB 1223, employers should update their organ donation leave policy to allow up to 30 days of unpaid leave in a one-year period, in addition to the 30 days of paid leave provided under existing law.  Public-sector employees must exhaust all available sick leave before taking the newly provided unpaid leave.

Employers should update their “paid family leave” policies.  Beginning on July 1, 2020, the maximum duration of Paid Family Leave partial wage replacement benefits increases from six to eight weeks (SB 83).  Employers with employees working in San Francisco are required to extend their Paid Parental Leave compensation from six to eight weeks as well.

AB 17 prohibits employers from requiring employees to bring or complete a vote-by-mail ballot to work.  Employers should review their voting leave policy to ensure it is compliant.

Employers should adjust policies that refer to domestic partners to reflect SB 30’s broadened definition of “domestic partnership.”  Under the new law, any couple may choose a domestic partnership relationship in lieu of marriage. Employers must treat domestic partnerships as equivalent to marriage in all respects, unless required otherwise by federal law.

AB 9 extends from one year to three years the time to file administrative complaints with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.  Employers should review and update record retention policies.

Training

Employers with five or more employees must provide one hour of harassment prevention training to all non-supervisory employees by January 1, 2021 (SB 778).  Bi-annual supervisor training law continues in effect as well.  Beginning January 1, 2021, employers must also train temporary and seasonal employees within 30 days of hire or 100 hours worked, whichever is earlier.

AB 1805 revised the definitions of a “serious injury or illness” or “serious exposure” that requires immediate reporting to Cal/OSHA.  Employers should train supervisors on these expanded reporting requirements, and modify policies accordingly.

Certain healthcare employers must implement a bi-annual, evidence-based, implicit bias training program for specified employees (SB 464).

Employment Documents

As of this writing, the Internal Revenue Service has not released the 2020 standard mileage rate used for reimbursement of employees’ use of personal vehicles.  Employers should update expense reimbursement documents to reflect the new reimbursement rate, once issued.

AB 51 is another attempt to invalidate arbitration agreements entered into, modified, or changed after January 1, 2020.  Employers should monitor court challenges based on federal law preemption.  However, some employers and arbitration contracts are not subject to federal law, and AB 51 may affect other contracts as well, such as settlement agreements.

Speaking of settlement agreements, employers should eliminate clauses that prohibit the employee from seeking to be rehired by the employer in the future (AB 749).  Employers may include a “no-rehire” provision if the employee signing has engaged in sexual harassment or assault. Additionally, the employer is not required to rehire a former employee who signs a release, if the decision is based on a legitimate business reason.

Given recent legislation affecting employment agreements (including employment contracts, arbitration agreements, and separation or settlement agreements), employers should not rely on stale templates or forms discovered during internet searches.

Finally, employers involved in arbitration should ensure they pay the costs and fees they agreed to pay timely. SB 707 could allow a challenge to the arbitration agreement based on the employer’s failure to pay as agreed. (SB 707).

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