A first-in-the-nation law to regulate quotas in warehouses. A ban on nondisclosure agreements in workplace harassment and discrimination lawsuits. An easier pathway to becoming barbers and hairstylists.
California workers and businesses will have those laws and more to abide by as the new year rolls around.
Last year was “kind of a down year” when it comes to the number of significant labor laws getting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature, said Ben Ebbink, a Sacramento-baed partner at a law firm Fisher Phillips representing employers.
Still, Ebbink noted several significant bills will affect employers and employees alike starting Jan. 1. Here’s what to know about the new laws:
The government will be able to issue a felony charge against employers who intentionally steal workers’ wages of more than $950 for one employee or $2,350 for two or more employees. Such a charge could lead to up to three years in jail.
“We’re not talking about an inadvertent, clerical mistake but situations where employers know what they’re doing and are not intending to pay workers by the law,” Ebbink said. “I don’t see a lot of risk for the prosecutors running around hitting mom-and-pop stores for inadvertent violations.”
California will also spike the amount of fines it could levy on the employers who don’t provide safe workplaces. Under Senate Bill 606, Cal-OSHA can impose a penalty for each employee affected by the violation of the state’s health and safety regulations if it is willful and “egregious.”
Cal-OSHA will also be able to issue an “enterprise-wide” citation, hitting all of the employer’s worksites, if the agency has evidence of a pattern of the same violation involving more than one of the facilities.
Meanwhile, the state will ban the use of nondisclosure settlement agreements on workplace harassment and discrimination cases. The law also prevents, with few exceptions, employers from offering severance agreements that block the displaced workers from talking about unlawful acts in the workplace.
Under Senate Bill 639, no new employers may be permitted to pay workers with disabilities less than the state’s minimum wage, a practice that had been allowed in some circumstances to encourage employment. Existing employers paying subminimum wages have until Jan. 1, 2025, to increase the pay for their workers.
Speaking of the minimum wage, employers with 26 or more employees soon must pay their workers at least $15 an hour. Smaller employers will be required to pay their workers at least $14 an hour. Some cities and counties may have an even higher minimum wage.
Warehouse, garment, cosmetic and food industries
Some laws will target specific industries.
Under Assembly Bill 701, companies must tell their warehouse workers of their quotas. Companies can’t use quotas to prevent workers from taking legally required meal, rest or bathroom breaks.
Companies must notify workers of their quota within 30 days of hiring, as well as of any discipline they may face from failing to meet the target. Workers who believe their quotas are unsafe can request 90 days of their work speed metrics and can sue employers to stop them from imposing the requirement.
Garment workers in the state must also now be paid hourly, instead of per piece produced, except in worksites covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Fashion brands would be held liable for labor law violations of their contractors.
Meanwhile, two new laws will affect the agriculture and food industry. Farmworkers are now designated as “essential workers,” giving them access to the state’s stockpile of N95 masks and other personal protective equipment. Food delivery platforms can’t retain any part of the tips given to their drivers.
Another new law will ease the requirement for Californians to be barbers or cosmetologists. Barbers and cosmetologists will only have to get 1,000 hours of training to get their license, compared to up to 1,600 hours beforehand.
What’s next for 2022?
Labor advocates vow to push for some bills that were introduced but failed to get through the Legislature in 2021.
A bill that would establish a statewide council setting pay and workplace standards for the fast-food industry could be one of them. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) has said she will reintroduce a bill giving all California workers at least five paid sick days a year, up from three now.
Worker advocates could also push legislators to bring back the state’s COVID-19 paid sick leave, which expired at the end of September, Ebbink said. He also said a bill to require employers to provide unpaid bereavement leave could also be back in the Legislature.
Ebbink also noted that legislators could revive a bill that sought to prevent employers from testing their workers for marijuana use. Assembly Bill 1256 did not get a vote in committee in 2021.
Legislators also could introduce bills requiring vaccination or regular testing for workers, Ebbink said. Legislators had floated the idea at the end of the last year’s legislative session, but they couldn’t finalize the language in time. Although President Joe Biden has proposed a similar rule, it has been mired in court challenges over whether the federal government has the legal authority to issue such a mandate.