Thanksgiving is a special time of year where we share time with our loved ones and reflect on the things for which we are most grateful. In that spirit, here are five reasons that California employees can celebrate this year:
1. The California Fair Pay Act
The California Fair Pay Act will take effect in January 2016, dramatically strengthening California’s Equal Pay Act. As I previously discussed in greater depth, the Fair Pay Act will help women receive equal pay for “substantially similar” work (not just “equal work”), including by eliminating loopholes, enacting strong anti-retaliation provisions, and mandating that employers keep pay records for three years. By requiring that employers have legitimate justification for pay disparities, the Fair Pay Act will help narrow the gender pay gap that now leaves women earning a mere 82% of what their male peers earn.
2. Minimum Wage Increases
On January 1, 2016, California’s minimum wage will increase from $9 per hour to $10 per hour statewide. This will raise the minimum compensation needed to be exempt from overtime to $41,600 per year (two times the state minimum wage for full-time employment).
The minimum wage in the City of Los Angeles will increase to $10.50 an hour in July 2016 (with small businesses and nonprofits on a modified schedule), and will then slowly rise until it reaches $15 an hour by 2020. These increases will help lift working families in California out of poverty and will help revive impoverished areas. The movement to raise the minimum wage throughout the State and throughout the country continues!
3. Expansion of “Associational” Retaliation Protections for Family Members
California has strong protections for workers who engage in activity protected under the Labor Code. Employers are prohibited from terminating them, retaliating against them, or taking any adverse actions against them. AB-1509, signed into law in October, provides protections for an employee who is a family member of a person who engaged in, or was perceived to engage in, protected conduct under the Labor Code. It also protects employees from retaliation by “controlling employers” and “client employers” (for example, when a general contractor retaliates against the employee of a subcontractor, or when a client of a labor contractor tells the contractor not to send a certain employee over for retaliatory reasons).
The bill amends Labor Code section 1102.5, which protects workers who complain about violations of federal, state or local local laws, rules, or regulations, whether externally to a government or law enforcement agency or to a public body conducting an investigation, inquiry or hearing, or internally to “a person with authority over the employee or another employee who has the authority to investigate, discover, or correct the violation or noncompliance.” Labor Code section 1102.5 also protects workers who have refused to participate in an activity that would result in a violation of state or federal statute, or a violation of or noncompliance with a local, state, or federal rule or regulation. Labor Code Section 1102.5(h) has been added: “An employer, or a person acting on behalf of the employer, shall not retaliate against an employee because the employee is a family member of a person who has, or is perceived to have, engaged in any acts protected by this section.”
It also amends Section 6310 of the Labor Code (those who complained or testified about workplace health and safety) and Section 98.6 (protecting those filing complaints or claims with the Labor Commissioner) to protect family members of those engaging in protected activity.
4. Expansion of Retaliation Protections for Requesting Accommodations
AB-987, signed into law in July, confirms that requesting an accommodation for one’s disability or religious beliefs is a protected activity under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (Cal. Gov’t Code § 12940, et seq.). It prohibits employers from retaliating or otherwise discriminating against a person for requesting such an accommodation, regardless of whether the accommodation request was granted.
5. Expansion of Leave Rights
In 2015, California’s Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 (the paid sick leave law) took effect, ensuring that all employees who have worked at least 30 days are eligible for up to three paid sick days each year, based on hours worked (employers are allowed to provide more paid time off).
In addition, SB-579, passed into law in October, will expand California’s Kin Care Law, Labor Code section 233 and the Family School Partnership Act, Labor Code section 230.8. With respect to the Family School Partnership Act, SB-579 expands on the currently-authorized reasons for which an employee can take job-protected time off of work. Workers may now take time off to find, enroll, or reenroll children in a school or with a licensed child care provider and to address a child care provider or school emergency (for example, unanticipated closures or requirements that the child be picked up). It also expands the individuals who can take the time off under the Act to include stepparents, foster parents, or those who stand in loco parentis to a child.
SB-579 expands the kin care law to permit an employee to use the sick leave for the purposes defined in the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 — including care for a child, parent, spouse, or domestic partner (as previously permitted) as well as for grandparents, grandchildren, and siblings. It also prohibits employers from denying an employee the right to use sick leave or taking specific discriminatory action against an employee for using, or attempting to exercise the right to use, sick leave for these purposes.
This year, California workers have much to celebrate, including the Fair Pay Act, increases in the minimum wage, expanded retaliation protections, and expanded leave rights. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!