iStock_000000642401_LargeBy: Timothy Hix, Daniel Whang, Kristina Launey, and Melissa Aristizabal

Seyfarth Synopsis: The California Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment yesterday heard and approved AB 5, The Opportunity to Work Act, as it continues to move through the legislative process.

The Opportunity to Work Act, which would require employers to offer hours to part-time employees before hiring new employees or temporary workers, yesterday cleared its first hurdle in the legislative process, receiving a go-ahead vote from the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment. Read and watch our summaries of the bill. Next stop: Assembly Appropriations.

The bill’s co-author, Assembly member Gonzalez-Fletcher, kicked off Wednesday’s hearing by touting AB 5’s purported benefits and protections for employees in the retail and fast food industries. Conceding that the bill leaves much to be desired among members of the business community, she emphasized her desire to work with businesses to refine the bill’s language.

Opponents highlighted the ambiguities in AB 5’s language and the difficulties employers would likely face in implementing its provisions. They presented surveys and statistics that conflicted with those presented by the bill’s proponents. For example, the proponents stated that most part-time workers want to work full time, while opponents claimed that 5% of all part-time workers harbor such a desire.

Opponents posed questions such as: How exactly are employers supposed to offer additional hours in a non-discriminatory fashion? Must employers offer hours to all employees (in the same or similar position)? How are employers supposed to notify employees of the additional hours? Do the hours get awarded to the first employee to respond? What if an employee wants to work only a portion (e.g., one or two hours) of the offered shift? Must the employer then ask other employees to cover the remaining hours? Does the bill’s requirement that employers document their offers of additional hours to current employees mean that employers must keep copies of all employee communications, or require employees to sign written acknowledgements of each offer of additional hours?

These questions, Gonzalez-Fletcher assured, arise from intentional ambiguities that she wants to clarify with the help of business owners. She’s already considering amendments that would

  • delay implementation of the bill (for one year) for 501(c)(3) organizations,
  • create a carve-out for collective bargaining agreements that expressly define work hours,
  • limit the bill’s application to only the location where the additional hours are available, if the employer has locations throughout the state, and
  • provide an employee opt-out provision.

We’ll keep monitoring this bill’s progress through the legislative process and keep you updated.

Seyfarth Synopsis: Back from Spring Break, and Back to Work: Our List of L&E Bills to Watch in the remainder of the 2017-2018 California Legislative Session.

New LegislationCalifornia Legislators were, as always, very busy in the first few months of the 2017-18 Legislative Session, introducing well over 2000 bills by the February 17th bill introduction deadline. But, in comparison to prior years, the calendar has been surprisingly light for heavy-hitter labor and employment bills. The Legislature returned to work on April 17, after its spring break, and continued to push bills out of the house of origin in advance of the June 2nd deadline.

Here’s what we’re watching:

Opportunity to Work Act. Modeled after the City of San Jose’s November 2016 voter-approved Opportunity to Work Ordinance (effective April 1, 2017), AB 5 would require employers with 10 or more employees in California to offer additional hours of work to existing nonexempt employees in California before the employer may hire additional employees or temporary employees. The employer would not have to offer the hours to existing employees if those hours would result in the payment of overtime compensation to those employees. The bill would require employers to retain documents, including work schedules of all employees and documentation of offering additional hours to existing employees, prior to hiring new employees or subcontractors. The bill would also require employers to post a notice to be created by the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) outlining employee rights under this (proposed) new law. This Act would create a new Labor Code section, and provide for enforcement by the DLSE on its own accord or via complaint by an employee, or via employee private right of action. The Act would allow for an express CBA carve-out. The bill is scheduled for its initial hearing in the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment on April 19. Stay tuned for an update on this bill following the hearing.

Rest Breaks. AB 817 would carve out an exception to Labor Code section 226.7’s off-duty “rest period” requirement for employers providing emergency medical services to the public. The bill would authorize those EMS employers to require employees to monitor and respond to calls for emergency response purposes during rest or recovery periods without penalty, as long as the rest break is rescheduled. The bill expressly states that it is declaratory of existing law. Likely in response to the California Supreme Court’s December 22, 2016 ruling in Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc. (holding that no true rest break was permitted when security guards were required to carry radios or pagers and respond to calls during rest breaks), this bill is one to watch.

Retail employees: Holiday Overtime. AB 1173 would establish an overtime exemption for “a holiday season employee-selected flexible work schedule,” requested in writing by individual nonexempt retail employees and approved by the employer. The exemption would allow the employee to work up to 10 hours per workday with no overtime pay. Hours worked between 10 and 12 in a workday, or over 40 hours in a workweek would be paid at one and one-half the regular rate of pay. All hours over 12 in a workday and over eight on a fifth, sixth, or seventh day in a workweek would be paid at double time. This bill contains a CBA carve-out, and clearly has many details to still be ironed out, as it contains a blank in the bill text for the definition of “retail industry.”

Pay Equity: salary inquiry ban. Once again, AB 168 seeks to ban employers, including state and local government employers, from asking job applicants about their salary history, as well as compensation and benefit information. The bill would also require that private employers, upon reasonable request, provide the applicant with the position’s pay scale. AB 168 brings back language that was shot down twice—first by Governor Brown in his October 2015 veto of AB 1017, then removed from 2016’s AB 1676 (fair pay legislation) before it received the Governor’s approval in September 2016.

Pay Equity: Gender Pay Gap Transparency Act. Dubbed the “Gender Pay Gap Transparency Act,” by author Assembly Member Gonzalez-Fletcher in her April 4, 2017 Equal Pay Day press release, AB 1209 would “require companies with more than 250 employees to include gender pay data as part of their annual reporting to the Secretary of State.” If passed, AB 1209 would require employers, beginning July 1, 2020, to publish and update yearly the difference between the mean salary and median salary of male exempt employees and female exempt employees broken down by job classification or title and the difference between the mean compensation and median compensation for male board members and female board members. Arguments against this bill will likely mirror those made in response to the EEOC’s revised EEO-1 rule.

Voluntary Veterans’ Preference Employment Policy Act. Dubbed the “Voluntary Veterans’ Preference Employment Policy Act,” AB 353 and AB 1477 would allow private employers to establish a veterans’ preference policy  and uniformly grant a hiring preference to veteran applicants, regardless of when the veteran served. These bills would expand Government code section 12940(a)(4), which currently allows for a veterans’ preference policy for Vietnam-era veterans only. The bill would provide that the granting of a veterans’ preference will not violate any local or state equal employment opportunity law or regulation, including FEHA, as long as the policy is not applied for the purpose of discriminating against an employment applicant on the basis of any protected classification.

Applicants: prior criminal history. The Legislature is joining the flurry of “Ban-the-Box” initiatives throughout California with AB 1008, which would make it unlawful for an employer to: 1) include on any job application questions that seek the disclosure of an applicant’s criminal history; 2) inquire or consider an applicant’s prior convictions before extending a conditional offer; and 3) when conducting a background check, to consider or disclose  various information. The bill would also require employers that intend to deny employment to an applicant because of prior convictions to perform an individualized assessment of whether the applicant’s conviction history has a direct and adverse relationship to the specific job duties, considering the nature and gravity of the offense, the time passed since the completion of the sentence, and the nature of the job. Then, the employer must notify the applicant of the reasons for the decision and provide the applicant 10 days to respond and challenge the accuracy of that information or provide evidence of rehabilitation which it must consider before making a final employment decision, in writing. This bill is substantially similar to the recent Fair Employment and Housing Council regulations, which go into effect in July 2017; and would thus largely codify what will soon be required by regulation.

Health professional interns: minimum wage. Following the recent increases in minimum wage, AB 387 would expand the definition of “employer” to include a person who employs any person engaged in supervised work experience (i.e., clinical hours) to satisfy the requirements for licensure, registration, or certification as an allied health professional. Cal Chamber opposes this bill, as it could cause internships provided for educational credit to be eliminated.

Resident apartment manager wages. AB 543 would authorize, under a voluntary written agreement, an employer that doesn’t charge a resident apartment manager monthly rent, to apply up to one-half of the fair market rental value of the apartment to meet minimum wage obligations to the apartment manager. Existing law allows employers to take a credit against minimum wage for two-thirds of the ordinary rental value, up to $564.81 per month for a single occupant and $835.49 per month for couples.

Credit Card gratuities. AB 1099 would require employers that are lodging establishments, car washes, barber shops and beauty salons, massage parlors, restaurants, and on-demand service providers such as transportation network companies that allow debit or credit card payment for services to also accept a debit or credit card for gratuities or tips. This bill would require the tip payment to be made to the employee by the next regular payday following the date the credit card authorized payment.

Overtime compensation: executive, administrative, or professional employees. AB 1565 would exempt from overtime compensation an executive, administrative, or professional employee, if the employee earns a monthly salary of either $3,956 or no less than twice the state minimum wage for full-time employment, whichever amount is higher.

Labor organizations: compulsory fee payments. AB 1174 would, beginning January 1, 2018, prohibit a person from requiring employees, as a condition of employment, to pay union dues or contribute financially to any charity sponsored by or at the behest of a labor organization.

Employer liability: small business and microbusiness. AB 442 would prohibit Cal OSHA from bringing an enforcement action for any “nonserious violation” against any employers with 100 or fewer employees and an average gross of $10,000,000 or less over the past three years, or microbusinesses  with 25 or fewer employees and an average gross of $2,500,000 or less over the past three years, without first giving the employer written notice of the violation and providing 30 days to cure. AB 442 would authorize Cal OSHA to assess a reasonable fee, up to $50, to cover its costs for enforcement.

Immigration: worksite enforcement actions. AB 450, the “Immigrant Worker Protection Act,” would impose several requirements on public and private employers dealing with federal ICE workplace raids or enforcement actions. Assemblymember Chiu has described the key components as:

  • Requiring employers to ask for a warrant before granting ICE access to a worksite.
  • Preventing employers from releasing employee records without a subpoena.
  • Requiring employers to notify the Labor Commissioner and employee representative of a worksite raid and notifying the Labor Commissioner, employees, and employee representatives of an I-9 audit (i.e., employment eligibility verification).
  • Preventing retaliation by enabling workers crucial to a labor claim investigation to receive certification from the Labor Commissioner that employee complainant or employee witness has submitted a valid complaint for violations of the Code and is cooperating in the investigation and prosecution of the violations.

The bill would authorize the Labor Commissioner to asses penalties of at least $10,000 to $25,000 for each violation against employers for failure to satisfy the bill’s requirements and prohibitions.

FEHA enforcement expansion. SB 491 would expand Government Code section 12993 and allow local jurisdictions, such as cities and counties, to enforce FEHA discrimination regulations. Cal Chamber opposes this bill.

Good faith defense: employment violations. SB 524 would permit an employer to raise an affirmative defense that, at the time of a violation, the employer was acting in good faith when the employer relied upon a valid published DLSE opinion letter or enforcement policy. SB 524 would only apply after January 1, 2018 to DLSE opinion letters or enforcement policies that are still in effect at the time of the violation. Employers would not be able to claim an affirmative defense when a DLSE opinion letter or enforcement policy has been modified, rescinded, or deemed invalid. Cal Chamber supports this bill but hearings for SB 524 have been canceled at the request of the author, Senator Vidak. We’ll keep our eye on this to see if there is any further movement.

Reproductive health. AB 569 would prohibit employers from taking any adverse employment action against an employee based on the employee or employee’s dependent’s reproductive health decisions. The bill would also prohibit employers from requiring employees to sign a waiver or any document denying an employee the right to make his or her own reproductive health care decisions, including the use of a particular drug, device, or medical service (e.g., in vitro fertilization). The bill would require an employer to include in its handbook a notice of the employee rights and remedies under this bill.

New Parent Leave Act. Likely DOA, but resurrected for another go from its 2016 veto, SB 63, the “New Parent Leave Act,” would prohibit employers with at least 20 employees within 75 miles, from refusing to allow an employee to take up to 12 weeks of parental leave to bond with a new child within one year of the child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement. Like under CFRA, to be eligible, the employee must have more than 12 months and at least 1,250 hours of service with the employer during the previous 12-month period. The bill would require the employer to maintain and pay for the employee’s coverage under a group health plan during this leave. SB 63 would also allow—but not require—an employer to grant simultaneous leave when two employees are entitled to leave for the same birth, adoption, or foster care placement. This bill is almost identical to 2016’s SB 654, which Governor Brown vetoed, and only provided for 6 weeks of leave, rather than the 12 weeks SB 63 would provide. The Governor’s veto message expressed his concerns for impact the leave would have on small business and pointed lawmakers to explore an amendment that would have made mediation an option—which the SB 63 does not have.

PAGA: Three New Valiant Efforts. AB 281 attempts to reform PAGA by: 1)  requiring an actual injury for an aggrieved employee to be awarded civil penalties; 2) excluding health and safety violations from the employer right to cure provisions; and 3) increasing employers’ cure period to 65 calendar days from 33.

AB 1429 would limit the violations an aggrieved employee can bring, require the employee follow specific procedural prerequisites to filing suit, limit civil penalties recoverable to $10,000 per claimant and exclude the recovery of filing fees, and require the superior court to review any penalties sought as part of a settlement agreement.

AB 1430 would require the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA) to investigate alleged Labor Code violations and issue a citation or determination regarding a reasonable basis for a claim within 120 calendar days; and allow an employee private action only after the LWDA’s reasonable basis notification or the expiration of the 120 day period. Read our further analysis of PAGA proposed amendments here.

Workplace Solutions

We will continue to monitor and report on these potential Peculiarities, as well as any other significant legislative developments over the course of the 2017 Legislative Session. Contact your favorite Seyfarth attorney with any questions.

Edited by Colleen Regan.

Seyfarth Synopsis: California voters gave the green light to recreational use of marijuana with the passage of Prop 64. Marijuana users may have felt like they struck Acapulco Gold, but a review of the law on drug testing in the workplace may turn out to be a buzzkill.

California highway sign with marijuana leafWhen can an employer drug test its employees?

Last November, California voters passed Proposition 64—the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. The new law permits individuals over the age of 21 to possess up to one ounce of marijuana or eight grams of marijuana concentrates. California households, regardless of how many people reside there, can grow up to six plants at a time.

But Prop 64 also expressly protects an employer’s right “to enact and enforce workplace policies pertaining to marijuana.” In other words, despite Prop 64, employers may still prohibit their employees from using the sticky icky. This good news for employers who want to maintain drug-free workplace policies may leave some employees dazed and confused.

Employers have had the right to narrowly craft drug testing policies to meet their needs. Reinforcing that right are Prop 64’s drug-free workplace carve-out and the fact that ganja use remains illegal on the federal level. It remains the case, however, that drug testing may affect an employee’s privacy rights, which create limits on when an employer may drug test.

California courts have used a balancing test to determine whether a drug test is legal for existing employees. Courts weigh the employer’s basis for testing versus the employee’s expectation of privacy. The nature of the test, the equipment used, the manner of administration, and its reliability are factors a court may consider in determining whether a drug test is permissible.

If an employer has an objectively reasonable suspicion that an employee is using drugs, then a drug test is likely permissible, especially when there is a threat to workplace safety. California employers generally have authority to eradicate potential harm to their business and their employees’ safety.

Note: Stay tuned for next week’s blog post on random drug testing by employers.

How should the employer notify employees about its drug testing policy?

If an employer plans to drug test, it should distribute to employees a clear drug policy before employees are subject to testing. The policy should explicitly prohibit the use of marijuana and notify employees of the circumstances in which a drug test would occur. This type of notice may decrease a drug testing program’s intrusion on an employee’s privacy interests.

Some employers may choose to educate employees about how marijuana lingers in one’s body beyond the time the “high” wears off. Because cannabis remains in a person’s system longer than other drugs, it’s possible for an employee to test positive for marijuana use that occurred during non-working time. A marijuana test, unlike an alcohol test, will not indicate whether the test subject is under the influence at the time of the test. Rather, a drug test may show THC in the bloodstream that has resulted from marijuana use days, weeks, or even months before the day of the test.

Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, marijuana continues to be a Schedule I controlled substance whose use and possession is illegal. For that reason, employers remain within their rights to maintain drug free-workplaces that exclude marijuana. In addition, federal contractors, under the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act, must establish drug-free workplaces.

Employers generally have the right to institute an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which allows an employee who has failed a drug test to attend an assistance program to help curb a substance abuse problem, or to place an employee in a supervised position and withhold certain privileges during a probationary period. Whatever policy an employer enacts, the policy should give employees clear expectations about the situations in which the employer will exercise its right to conduct a drug test for cause.

Is an employer exposing itself to risk by drug testing employees?

Drug testing employees may give rise to claims by employees for disability discrimination, invasion of privacy, and defamation. In addition, employers who fail to uniformly apply drug testing policies risk exposure to a discrimination suit under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. An employer must not single out protected categories of employees for drug testing.

How can Seyfarth help?

Employers should assess their written policies, and training and education of employees to ensure compliance with California’s drug testing laws. Seyfarth’s Workplace Solutions Group is ready and willing to help to make sure your company is in compliance.

Edited by Chelsea Mesa.

Fresh off the presses we bring to you the latest and greatest version of our beloved Cal-Peculiarities: How California Employment Law is Different, your California employment law roadmap. It is created to help private employers who do business in California steer through the nuances of California employment law. In the 2017 Edition, we continue to highlight recent court decisions and legislative developments. Don’t get caught in the driver’s seat without it!

CalPeculiarities 2017 CoverThe book is available in a convenient, searchable eBook format. Click here to order your copy today!

We also invite you to join us for a webinar on Wednesday, April 19, 2017! Seyfarth attorneys Dana PetersonKerry Friedrichs, and Jonathan Brophy, will discuss the growing list of legal developments—judicial as well as legislative—that should concern executives, managers, general counsel, and human resources professionals with employees in California, including laws related to:

  • The Amended California Fair Pay Act
  • Immigration
  • Legal Marijuana
  • The Gig Economy and Independent  Contractors
  • Local Paid Sick Leave Explosion
  • California Employment Discrimination Law (including new employee protections)
  • California Wage-Hour Peculiarities

There is no cost to attend this program, however, registration is required. Please click here to register! The webinar will be offered at the following times:

1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Eastern
12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Central
11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mountain
10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Pacific

On behalf of your Cal-Pecs team, thank you for your continued interest in the blog.

Seyfarth Synopsis: On March 30, 2017, the California Fair Employment and Housing Council (“FEHC”) considered proposed regulations on transgender employees. The FEHC also discussed draft regulations on national origin discrimination in the workplace.

Transgender Identity. On March 30, 2017, the FEHC, convened in Sacramento for its second meeting of the year, voted unanimously to adopt proposed regulations on transgender identity and expression, which will go to the Office of Administrative Law for approval. We expect a final text in July. The FEHC first proposed these amended regulations in 2016, which we covered here.

Some highlights: the amended proposed regs would

  • prohibit employers from requiring applicants to disclose their sex, gender, gender identity or expression,
  • protect transitioning employees by expanding the definitions of gender identity and expression,
  • ensure that employees are addressed by their preferred name, gender, and pronoun, and
  • require employers to provide equal access to comparable, safe, and adequate bathrooms, locker rooms, and similar facilities.

Employers can familiarize themselves with the approved regulations now to anticipate questions that may arise in this context.

The FEHC heard public comment over a perceived conflict in bathroom signage required by the proposed regulations and pre-existing Cal-OSHA regulations. The proposed FEHC regulations, consistent with recently enacted legislation (discussed here), require that single-user bathrooms have gender-neutral signage. But the Cal-OSHA regulation, which predates both the FEHC regs and the recent legislation, calls for single-user bathrooms to be for a single gender. The conflict is one of perception only, as the Department of Industrial Relations has clarified that Cal-OSHA will not enforce its rule, and instead will follow the gender-neutral requirement found in the statute (and the proposed FEHC regs). We expect that other agencies may adopt the DIR’s approach, favoring transgender protections over conflicting pre-existing regulations.

Kevin Kish, Director of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, confirmed the DFEH would consult with the Labor and Workforce Development Agency and Cal-OSHA to ensure consistency in the implementation and enforcement of the regulations.

National Origin Discrimination. The FEHC has also drafted proposed regulations regarding national origin discrimination in the workplace, following recommendations by Legal Aid at Work. The proposed regulations are still in their early stages; as yet, there has been no formal notice of the proposed regulations or a public hearing.

The proposed regulations largely track the EEOC’s new guidance on national origin, which we summarized in our Employment Law Lookout blog here. The draft FEHC regulations address these issues:

  • Defining national origin to include place of birth or ancestor’s place of birth, association or perceived association with a person of a national origin group or ethnicity, Native American Tribe, language, and accent.
  • Harassment and retaliation against undocumented workers.
  • Discrimination based on immigration status, accent, or English proficiency.
  • Workplace language restrictions.

Public comments have addressed the proposed provisions that would curb employer inquiry into an individual’s immigration status. The proposed regulations would permit such an inquiry only where clear and convincing evidence shows the inquiry is needed to comply with federal law. Based on further comment by Legal Aid at Work, we anticipate that further modifications may provide guidance on workplace language policies.

What’s Next? We expect to see more activity from the FEHC in the months ahead. The FEHC will likely revise its proposed regulations on national original discrimination before it issues formal notice of proposed action of the regulation. The FEHC also plans to expand its outreach efforts, seeking further comment from the public and civil rights groups to shape the FEHC’s future agenda. We will continue to monitor and report further developments.

Edited by Colleen Regan.

Seyfarth Synopsis:  The California Fair Employment and Housing Council (“FEHC”) has approved new regulations, effective July 1, 2017, to limit employers’ use of criminal history when making employment decisions.

Request for a criminal background checkNew Regulation Highlights

Updating our prior post, the FEHC has finalized new regulations on employer consideration of criminal history, largely adopting the guidance set forth by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) in its April 2012 “Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

  • Expanding the Types of Criminal History Employers May Consider: Employers will be prohibited from considering any non-felony convictions for marijuana possession if the conviction is more than two years old. (Current California law prohibits asking applicants to provide information concerning convictions for marijuana-related offenses that are more than two years old; detentions or arrests not resulting in conviction (except for those pending); convictions that have been judicially dismissed or ordered sealed; and information concerning a referral to or participation in a work/education program as part of probation.)
  • Requiring Notice to the Applicant/Employee of a Disqualifying Conviction and Providing a Reasonable Opportunity to Present Evidence of Factual Inaccuracy: Under the new regs, prior to taking adverse action, an employer must provide the applicant notice of the disqualifying conviction and give the applicant a reasonable opportunity to present evidence of factual inaccuracy. If the applicant produces such evidence, the conviction cannot be considered in the employment decision. The notice is only required when the criminal history is obtained from a source other than the applicant or employee (e.g., through a consumer report or internally generated search). This notice differs from the notice required by the Fair Credit Report Act (“FCRA”), which mandates notices only if the employer takes adverse action based on information contained in a third-party background check. This notice also differs from those in “Ban the Box” city ordinances, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, where notice may be required if adverse action is taken from criminal history information from any source, including disclosure from the candidate.
  • Prohibiting Consideration of Criminal History When Doing So Will Result in an Adverse Impact on Individuals Within a Protected Class: Employers will also be prohibited from considering criminal history if doing so will result in an adverse impact (referred to by the EEOC as “disparate impact”) on individuals within a certain class (e.g., race, national origin, etc.). The regs bring California into explicit alignment with federal law on this point. Applicants bear the initial burden of proof with respect to establishing that the employer’s background screening policy has an adverse impact on a protected class, e.g., conviction statistics or other types of evidence. If adverse impact is demonstrated, the burden shifts to the employer to demonstrate that its policy is “job related and consistent with business necessity,” and tailored to the specific circumstances, taking into account factors such as those set forth in Green v. Missouri Pacific Railroad, 549 F.2d 1158 (8th Cir. 1975), i.e.,: (i) nature and gravity of the offense or conduct; (ii) amount of time since the offense or conduct and/or completion of the sentence; and (iii) nature of the job held or sought. (Bright-line disqualification policies that include convictions that are older than seven years create a rebuttable presumption that they are not sufficiently tailored.) Even if an employer can demonstrate job-relatedness and consistency with business necessity, an applicant or employee can still bring a claim if they can show that there is a less discriminatory alternative (such as a narrower list of disqualifying convictions) that advance the employer’s legitimate concerns as effectively as the current policy or practice.

Employer Outlook

Employers in California should review their policies on use of criminal history in hiring and modify any practices to ensure compliance with the new FEHC regulation (as well as the FCRA and applicable municipal Ban the Box ordinances, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco).

Pamela Q. Devata is a partner in Seyfarth Shaw’s Chicago office. Stacey L. Blecher is counsel in the firm’s New York office. If you would like further information, please contact your Seyfarth Shaw LLP attorney, Pamela Q. Devata at pdevata@seyfarth.com or Stacey L. Blecher at sblecher@seyfarth.com.

Seyfarth Synopsis:  With summer months almost upon us, here are some dress code tips and tricks for employers to ensure both employee compliance with relaxed summer dress codes and increased employee motivation and morale. We also note pitfalls to avoid when developing these dress codes.

Who doesn’t love wearing khakis and polos to work? Relaxed summer dress codes are a common practice among businesses that seek to boost employee morale during a time when some folks want to be at the beach. Establishing these summer dress code guidelines, however, can be a challenge because they can introduce ambiguity and confusion. Employees may not have a clear sense of what attire satisfies a “relaxed” dress code, and as a result wear clothing that is inappropriate.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind, with suggested language for dress codes.

Acceptable Summer Dress Code Restrictions

Establish written guidelines for dress in the workplace. One place to put them is the employee handbook. If a relaxed summer dress code is a new addition, then an addendum to the dress code policy may be in order, or even a stand-alone policy.

California recognizes the need for employers to adopt dress and grooming standards based on business needs. These include safety in the workplace, fostering an atmosphere of professionalism, and adherence to accepted social norms or customs. With these points in mind, it is generally okay to ask that employees not wear the following:

  • shorts
  • crop tops, halter tops, tank tops and spaghetti straps
  • “maxi” dresses
  • sun dresses
  • jumpsuits, rompers, or overalls
  • T-shirts
  • flip flops, sandals, and other casual footwear
  • sunglasses
  • hats

The EEOC generally tolerates dress codes that apply to all employees within a certain job category, even if the dress code might conflict with some workers’ ethnic beliefs or practices. Employers, then, can require employees to leave their nose rings, tongue studs, and other body piercings at home.

What To Avoid: Discriminatory Dress Codes

In America generally, dress codes that differentiate between men and women are not unlawful as sex discrimination because these employer requirements do not affect employment opportunities. Employers thus may allow women, but not men, to wear their hair long, or may ban earrings for men, while allowing them for women. But California takes things to the next level: California law forbids employers to ban the wearing of pants, unless that ban applies to both genders. California thus protects the right of women to wear pantsuits. There are a few exceptions to the pantsuits rule, such as dress codes requiring employees “in a particular occupation to wear a uniform” or requiring employees to wear a costume while portraying a specific character in a dramatic role.

Federal law does not recognize gender as a stand-alone category and instead identifies “gender identity, including transgender status” as types of sex discrimination. Not surprisingly, California is different here as well.  California’s interpretation of gender includes “gender identity and gender expression.” “Gender expression” in California includes gender-related appearance and behavior whether or not it is stereotypically associated with the person’s assigned gender at birth. This language aims to protect persons whose physical and behavioral characteristics are associated with a particular gender.  Summer dress codes, as with any dress code, should take into account this expansive definition.

California is also peculiar in the area of religious dress and grooming practices. California law, unlike federal law, defines “religious grooming practices” as including  “all forms of head, facial, and body hair that are part of the observance” of the individual’s religious creed. Along those same lines, California is also peculiar in that it forbids segregating an employee to achieve a religious accommodation. Thus, an employer confronted with an employee with a religious grooming practice does not have the option of accommodating that practice by moving that the employer away from customers and to the back of the house.

Workplace Solutions

The summer months by their nature inspire a more casual atmosphere (especially in sunny California!). While dress codes can be tailored to reflect this, it is important to ensure that they still comply with the law and that they are consistently and equitably enforced (especially in California). If you are considering instituting a summer dress code, or if you would like to review an existing one, please do not hesitate to reach out to our experts in Seyfarth’s California Workplace Solutions Group.

Edited by Michael Wahlander.

Seyfarth Synopsis: Some California employers offer floating holidays for employees to use for events like the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day holiday. Floating holidays, while offering additional unrestricted days off that promote employee satisfaction and work-life balance, can also bring a sinking feeling to employers who learn, too late, of their possible ballast.

Many California businesses provide 11 paid holidays to employees. In addition, some employers provide floating holidays, which bob along on the sea of workdays until an employee grabs one to serve as a personal life preserver. All good, right? Not necessarily. Granting floating holidays can raise questions that, if not answered correctly, can lead to unexpected liability despite the good intent.

What is a floating holiday anyway?

“Floating holidays” allow employees, with advance notice, to take off any work day, for any reason they choose. These extra days off may enable employees to attend to personal business such as a parent-teacher conference, to observe religious holidays such as Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, or Christmas Eve, to take a “mental health” day, or to celebrate other significant days such as a birthday, a spouse’s birthday, or an anniversary.

Are floating holidays mandatory?

Although no law requires employers to provide floating paid holidays, some employers use them to promote employee satisfaction and work-life balance.

Do floating holidays affect final pay? 

That’s where things can get tricky. In California, employers can let floating holidays truly float with the wind or tether them to other events. Depending on the employer’s approach, unused floating holidays may need to be included in an employee’s final pay.

One approach is for the employer to treat floating holidays as unrestricted. This allows employees to take a day off any time they chose, regardless of the occurrence of any other event. With this approach, courts are likely to treat floating holidays as simply vacation by another name. As such, any unused floating holiday must be paid out at the time of the employee’s termination, along with any other wages owed.

The other approach is for the employer to tie floating holidays to the occurrence of a specific event. This approach requires that floating holidays be used on or near specific days (such as on or near the employee’s birthday). The right to take the day off does not arise until the occurrence of the event to which it is tethered; that is, if the employee is no longer employed upon reaching a birthday (in this example), the right to take the associated floating holiday never springs into being. In that case, the floating holiday would be treated like a regular paid holiday, which is not owed until the event (e.g., Thanksgiving, July 4th) occurs. Consequently, pay for the unused holiday pay would not due upon termination.

Can we cap the number of floating holidays?

Yes. An employer may cap the number of floating holidays that an employee can take. But employers must remember that California law on vacation does not allow a “use it or lose it” policy. As we’ve just learned, if use of a buoyant holiday is unrestricted, it will be considered a vacation equivalent. Because California equates earned vacation pay with wages, it vests as it is earned. As we detailed in an earlier piece, an employer may not have a policy that makes employees forego “vacation” pay that is not used by a specific date. Likewise with those unrestricted floating holidays.

What must our written policy include?

Because employers can treat floating holidays in different ways, it’s important to have your policy clearly reflect when floating holidays may be taken and what happens if the floating holidays are not taken. If floating holidays can be taken at any time, then it is important to track the employee’s accrued and unused floating holidays. Those must be paid out at the time of termination.

Workplace Solution:  By making sure that the written policy is clearly drafted, California employers can avoid many of the pinpricks and burst bubbles of good intent that can come along with providing floating paid holidays. If you would like assistance with ensuring compliance with California rules regarding floating holidays, please contact the authors or another attorney from Seyfarth’s Labor and Employment Group.

Edited by Michael Cross.

Seyfarth Synopsis: On March 13, 2017, San Jose’s new “Opportunity to Work Ordinance” takes effect, requiring covered employers to offer additional hours to part-time employees before hiring new or temporary employees. As the law’s effective date looms, the City has issued guidance clarifying portions of the ordinance and has released the notice form that employers must post.

An earlier post detailed the obligations that San Jose’s new voter-approved ordinance creates for San Jose private employers. The ordinance requires certain employers to:

  • offer additional work hours to existing, qualified part-time employees before hiring new employees, through a “transparent and non-discriminatory process,”
  • post a notice of the rights created by the ordinance, and
  • retain, for four years, relevant records such as work schedules, payroll records, and offers to current and former part-time employees.

With the ordinance’s March 13th effective date now knocking, the City has issued guidance on how to comply. We provide some highlights below.

For starters, employers can stop banging on the City’s door for the ordinance’s required notice. The City has issued the notice for employers to post with their other employment notices (click here for the notice in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese).

The City has also published Frequently Asked Questions to shed some light on how the City interprets the ordinance. Perhaps most importantly, the FAQs define a “full-time” employee as an employee who works at least 35 hours a week, which means that “part-time” employees (who must be offered extra hours) are those who work fewer than 35 hours a week.

The FAQs also remind us that a “covered employer” is an employer that has at least 36 employees and that is subject to San Jose’s business tax (i.e., the ordinance doesn’t apply to government employers). The FAQs also explain that the employer’s total number of employees includes employees who work in locations outside of San Jose.

The FAQs go on to explain that only non-exempt employees count towards the 36-person threshold required to become a covered employer (this number includes part-time and full-time employees). Administrative and professional employees will not affect an employer’s coverage under the law; in fact, the FAQs explain that they are exempt from the law.

Further, the FAQs details how employers can comply. First, employers need to offer additional hours to part-time employees only at a particular location. Employers do not need to reach out to employees at other locations.

Second, employers can decide how to offer additional hours to part-time employees, provided that the employers adopt a process that is transparent and non-discriminatory. For example, an employer can give employees a limited window to accept additional hours of work before bringing on new labor. And employers need not rearrange their shift schedules to give more hours to part-time workers; the part-time worker must be able to work during the employer’s regularly scheduled shift.

Finally, for those covered employers who feel like the ordinance might knock them out, the City has provided a hardship application. On a case-by-case basis, the City will grant renewable twelve-month exemptions where a covered employer’s “work or need is unpredictable or requires a specialized skill and there is a need to essentially have Employees ‘on call.’ ”

This recent guidance, while not removing all uncertainty, certainly gives employers a better understanding of what lurks behind the Opportunity to Work Ordinance door, which will open on March 13.

Workplace Solutions. Compliance with new city ordinances can be tricky, especially since they are often relatively obscure. Knowledge is the first step. Compliance efforts are the next. If you would like assistance with ensuring compliance with this new ordinance, then please contact the authors or another attorney from Seyfarth’s Labor and Employment Group.

Edited by Michael Cross.

Seyfarth Synopsis: Heeding some lessons from HBO’s Silicon Valley can help employers avoid mistakes related to potential hostile work environments and discrimination that might occur in a startup environment.

In a world where life often imitates art, startups can avoid perceived gender bias and sexual harassment in the workplace by learning from the pitfalls of the socially awkward team at TV’s fictional startup firm: Pied Piper. In honor of the upcoming return of Silicon Valley, we discuss five lessons for fledgling companies, using situations that may sound oddly familiar to fans of this geek squad.

1. She Loves Me Not: Workplace Romances Gone Wrong

Imagine that your programming engineer is flirting with one of the (few) female engineers on staff. She politely tries to discourage him, but he isn’t taking the hint. What do you need to be concerned about?

Unwelcome conduct based on gender often forms the basis of a sexual harassment complaint. That’s why it’s important to take all complaints seriously and to both quickly and effectively address misconduct. An employer has a legal obligation to prevent harassment. Therefore, startups should have clear anti-harassment policies informing employees of their rights and outlining complaint and investigation procedures in place for addressing such complaints (more on this below).

But what, you ask, if the conduct is welcome? Does that mean all’s well? Not quite. Although California law doesn’t require employers to prevent all employees from dating or pursuing romantic relationships with their coworkers, a workplace romance between a supervisor and a subordinate can lead to prohibited conduct. Why? Such dalliances can lead to harassment or hostile work environment claims, as well as conflicts of interest and morale issues. In addition, some companies may want to consider implementing a “love contract” for peer relationships; review our prior blog post to see if one might suit your company.

2. Promise To Be Nice To Each Other? Pinky Swear? Not Enough

In the rush to open its doors, a startup might not contemplate certain policies until it becomes clear that they are necessary. For example, maybe you didn’t think to launch your startup with a clear anti-harassment policy in place, but are prompted to by the recent hire of a woman into what was previously a small, all-male workforce (think Pied Piper). In this case, would the following policy suffice?

“Essentially, if you find the workplace hostile in any way you can submit a written complaint. It will be completely anonymous. Essentially don’t do or say anything that might offend anyone. Okay? Thank you. That’s the policy.”

While well-meaning, the above policy falls short in a number of ways. California requires that employers prevent harassment in the workplace and take immediate and appropriate corrective action when harassment occurs. But blanket guarantees of confidentiality or anonymity are  impractical because remedial action may require some form of disclosure of the complainant’s identity. In addition, employer policies must use specific language that FEHA and DFEH regulations require. That includes clearly stating that the employer will not tolerate discrimination or harassment on the basis of protected characteristics including: age, ancestry, color, religion, race, national origin, citizenship, creed, ancestry, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, medical condition, pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition, denial of family and medical leave, mental or physical disability, marital status, military and veteran status, and genetic information. It’s also required to designate a specific person to whom these types of complaints can be made—someone other than the complainant’s supervisor. Lastly, it’s important to note that startups with 50 or more employees must provide interactive sexual harassment training to their managers and supervisors every two years (more on this training in one of our previous blog posts).

3. There Are Such Things As Stupid Questions: Discrimination During Hiring

Imagine your Silicon Valley-like CFO “struggles” between hiring a woman and hiring the “best” engineer, falsely believing these are mutually exclusive propositions. This CFO claims to understand the value of diversity, but at the same time, wants to ensure that he hires “the most qualified person for the job. But it would be better if that person was a woman even though the woman part is irrelevant.”

California law, of course, protects against discrimination on the basis of gender, as well as the other protected characteristics mentioned above. An employer’s obligation to prevent discrimination begins with the application and hiring process. Whether it’s by asking questions during an interview that reflect a bias for or against a particular gender, or considering gender when deciding whether or not to hire, employers can expose themselves to liability. It’s important that those with the authority to interview and hire are properly trained with respect to what can and cannot be considered when making hiring decisions.

4. Equal Pay Or Bust

Similarly, what if your previously all-male workforce expresses concern that a newly hired female programmer will be paid the same as her male counterparts?

As previously reported here, as of January 1, 2016, California has one of the most aggressive pay equity laws in the country. It requires that employers pay persons of different genders equally for substantially similar work, or else be able to explain legitimate differences. Recent amendments impose the same rule for employees of different races or ethnicities (which we discussed at length here).

5. Creativity v. Etiquette

You may face a scenario in which certain startup members rely, for creative inspiration, on crude or vulgar language in order to produce the outcome your customers expect. Does the creation of groundbreaking compression software, for example, justify workplace use of vulgar language?

Probably not. Vulgar and crude language, if sufficiently pervasive and gender-specific, may give rise to a hostile work environment. Standing alone, the above scenario might not rise to the severe and pervasive standard required for workplace harassment. But if persistent vulgar language exists, your startup could be in some hot water. If the language is related to or directed toward a specific gender, your version of Pied Piper may ultimately have to pay.

Workplace Solution:

Until we reach a post-gender culture, or until the next tech genius creates an algorithm to perfect these issues, businesses—especially startups—should not be afraid to seek legal counsel on how to best handle these issues in the workplace.

Edited by Michael Cross.