Seyfarth Synopsis: California’s new law, Assembly Bill 450, signed by Governor Brown on October 5, and effective January 1, 2018, imposes several new immigration-related duties on California employers and the potential for civil fines. AB 450 will require employers to understand or seek guidance on where the new law ends and federal immigration law begins. The complexities of U.S. immigration law make drawing this distinction very difficult. This blog post provides an in-depth analysis of foreseeable challenges California employers – whether or not they petition for foreign workers – will likely face.

“Mollusks of Jargon”

The California legislature and Governor Jerry Brown have once again entered the immigration fray.

This foray is not about its Sanctuary State legislation, recently enacted, and promptly decried by U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III as “unconscionable”, and by Thomas Homan, Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as “[forcing his] hand,” and causing him to “quadruple workplace crackdowns.”

No, the latest California leap into the federal immigration ecospace is Assembly Bill 450, which imposes civil fines on employers ranging from $2,000 to $10,000 per violation for a variety of newly unlawful practices. Signed by Gov. Brown on October 5, 2017, AB 450 stands among a slew of new California laws taking effect on January 1, 2018. AB 450 will add three new sections to the Government Code and two new sections to the Labor Code – 90.2 and 1019.2.

Under the new law, every public and private employer in California, or any person acting on the employer’s behalf, must:

No Fourth Amendment Waiver 

Refrain from waiving Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures by:

  • granting voluntary consent to enter any non-public areas at a place of labor, except if presented with “a judicial warrant,”
  • granting voluntary consent to an immigration enforcement agent to access, review, or obtain the employer’s employee records without “a subpoena or judicial warrant,” except if an “immigration agency” (most often, this would be Homeland Security Investigations [HSI], an agency of U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement [ICE]) issues a Notice of Inspection (NOI) of Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9s and other records required to be maintained under federal immigration regulations in order to verify employment eligibility;

Posted Notice of Worksite Inspection

 Post a notice at the worksite in the language the employer normally uses to communicate employment-related information to employees, within 72 hours of receiving an NOI, communicating the following information to employees:

  1. An immigration agency, identified by name, has issued an NOI (a copy of which must also be posted at the same time) and will conduct inspections of I-9 forms or other employment records.
  2. The date that the employer received the NOI.
  3. The “nature of the inspection” to the extent known.

Notice to the Union

Give written notice to the “employee’s authorized representative,” namely, the exclusive collective bargaining representative, if any, within 72 hours of the immigration agency’s issuance of an NOI:

  • Delivery of Requested Copy of the Notice. Provide any employee, upon reasonable request, with a copy of the NOI;
  • Provide Notice of Suspect Documents. Within 72 hours of the employer’s receipt of a written immigration agency notice informing the employer of the results of the agency’s inspection of the I-9s and the employer’s employment records, typically entitled, a “Notice of Suspect Documents” (NSD), provide a written notice to certain “affected employees” who apparently lack work eligibility (and any collective bargaining representative) of the obligations of the employer and the affected employees, containing the following information:
  1. A description of any and all deficiencies or other items identified in the written immigration inspection results notice related to the affected employee.
  2. The time period for correcting any potential deficiencies identified by the immigration agency.
  3. The time and date of any meeting with the employer to correct any identified deficiencies.
  4. Notice that the employee has the right to representation during any meeting scheduled with the employer.

No Re-Verifying Current Employees

 Refrain from re-verifying the employment eligibility of a current employee at a time or in a manner not required by the employment eligibility verification provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, 8 USC § 1324a(b), or that would violate any E-Verify Memorandum of Understanding the employer has entered into with the Department of Homeland Security.

* * *

To be sure, AB 450 offers sops feigning fealty to federal immigration law. Replete in the law are exceptions stating that these new mandates are not to be interpreted as requiring the employer to violate federal immigration law. California’s political leaders apparently believe that U.S. immigration rules – in the aspirational words of the Fifth Circuit court federal Court of Appeals – are “comprehensible by intelligent laymen and unspecialized lawyers without the aid of both lexicon and inner-circle guide.”

Regrettably, they are anything but. The court said in this 1981 decision in words that ring ever more true today:

Whatever guidance the [immigration] regulations furnished to those cognoscenti familiar with procedures, this court . . . finds that they yield up meaning only grudgingly and that morsels of comprehension must be pried from mollusks of jargonKwon v. INS, 646 F. 2d 909 (5th Cir., 1981). (Emphasis added.)

AB 450’s supporters, the California Labor Federation and Service Employees International Union, defend the law because it adds what they apparently see as reasonable but necessary burdens on employers in order to protect the state’s sizable population of undocumented employees from immigration raids and the abusive practices of some employers:

“[M]illions of union members are immigrants and worksite immigration raids undermine workers’ rights in significant ways: they drive down wages and labor conditions for all workers, regardless of immigration status; they interfere with workers’ ability freely to exercise their workplace rights; they incentivize employers to employ undocumented workers in substandard conditions because the threat of immigration enforcement prevents workers from complaining; they undermine the efforts of the state to enforce labor and employment laws.”

However laudable this legislative goal, AB 450 would be better titled, the “Have Your Immigration Lawyer on Speed Dial Act,” because that is how this new law will likely play out. This is probably why the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) steadfastly opposed AB 450, stating:

“[W]hile well intentioned, [AB 450] will add a host of unnecessary burdensome requirements, create many logistical challenges, and could possibly force human resource professionals to decide between abiding by federal law or state law.”

Consider some of the issues this new law will raise.

Role of California state courts to interpret federal immigration laws? AB 450 grants the California Labor Commissioner or the state’s Attorney General the exclusive authority to initiate civil actions to enforce its provisions. Assuming that the courts find that this law can peacefully coexist with Congress’s plenary authority over immigration law, then presumably California state administrative officials and courts will now be required to decide whether or not particular actions by employers are “required” by federal immigration law.

Distinguishing between a subpoena and a judicial warrant? AB 450 permits employers to grant federal immigration officers access to non-public worksite areas if the employer is presented with a “judicial warrant.” Access to a company’s employee records, however, is not prohibited under the law if immigration officers tender to the employer a “subpoena or judicial warrant.” Few employers likely realize, however, that a subpoena may be issued by a court or by administrative agency officials.

Under Immigration and Nationality Act § 235(d)(4); 8 U.S.C. §1225(d)(4), immigration officers are empowered to issue administrative subpoenas for books and records. If an employer refuses to comply with an administrative subpoena, however, then immigration officials can only enforce it if they persuade a federal judge to issue a judicial order. Yet – in the real world – when federal immigration agents issue an administrative subpoena carrying an official federal seal and, by its terms, demanding access to business records, pity the unsophisticated HR manager who violates California law if s/he “voluntarily” provides the business’s employee records.

Who are “immigration enforcement agents?” AB 450 does not define the term “immigration enforcement agent.” The phrase undoubtedly refers to officers of ICE and HSI. Less clear is whether other federal immigration officers should be characterized as immigration enforcement agents under this law. Federal officers with immigration enforcement authority — all of whom have taken an oath to “well and faithfully discharge [their] duties” — may hail from any number of Executive Branch departments and agencies. Under 8 CFR § 1.2, USCIS has set forth a broad definition of DHS employees who are designated by regulation as “immigration officer[s].” These include: “immigration enforcement agents, forensic document analysts, immigration agents (investigations), immigration enforcement agents, immigration inspectors, immigration officers, immigration services officers, investigator, intelligence agents, intelligence officers, investigative assistants, and special agents, among others.”

Conceivably, AB 450, by its terms, could also extend to federal officials performing immigration functions within the Departments of State, and Labor. Moreover, the current practice of one Department of Homeland Security  (DHS) sub-component, the Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) Directorate of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), to conduct unannounced “administrative site visits” or “on-site compliance reviews,” raises immediate concerns about its officers’ future interactions with California employers.

Although FDNS asserts that it is not an immigration enforcement agency, a current job opening for the position, “Immigration Officer (FDNS),” – accessible here, and if the posting is taken down, also here – confirms that, “[every] day, our Immigration Officers (FDNS) . . . identify, articulate, and pursue suspected immigration benefit fraud.” Moreover, employers seeking to hire foreign workers must sign petitions under penalty of perjury for virtually every request for immigration benefits submitted to USCIS, requests which contain the acknowledgment, “I also recognize that any supporting evidence submitted in support of this petition may be verified by USCIS through any means determined appropriate by USCIS, including but not limited to, on-site compliance reviews,” see e.g., the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129 Part 7, p. 6).

Indeed, the tasks of immigration site inspectors, according to FDNS, are to:

  • Verify the information, including supporting documents, submitted with the petition;
  • Verify that the petitioning organization exists;
  • Review public records and information on the petitioning organization;
  • Conduct unannounced site visits to where the beneficiary works;
  • Take photographs;
  • Review documents;
  • Speak with the beneficiary [the nonimmigrant worker sponsored under an employment-based petition by an employer]; and
  • Interview personnel to confirm the beneficiary’s work location, physical workspace, hours, salary and duties. (Emphasis added.)

The conceit asserted by FDNS that it is not an immigration enforcement agency is also belied by this disclosure on its website:

USCIS has formed a partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in which FDNS pursues administrative inquiries into most application and petition fraud, while ICE conducts criminal investigations into major fraud conspiracies. (Emphasis added.)

Even if a line can fairly be drawn between FDNS’s pursuit of immigration fraud and ICE’s activities in conducting criminal investigations, the use by AB 450 of the term, “immigration enforcement agent,” suggests at the very least an agency relationship between FDNS (the agent) and ICE (the principal).

Thus, a California employer could well face liability under AB 450 if it voluntarily consents to an FDNS officer’s request for access to the beneficiary’s “physical workspace,” the opportunity take to “take photographs” of the workspace (which routinely happens), and conduct a “[r]eview [of] records.” Yet, if a California employer were to refuse such a request, FDNS officers will no doubt report that refusal to USCIS adjudicators, who then routinely issue a notice of intent to deny or revoke work-visa petition approval. Notices of intent to revoke approval are especially problematic, because if they cannot be overcome in light of the obvious state law impediments in AB 450, then USCIS will revoke the employment authorization of the particular beneficiary. The result of a revocation is that the employee must be terminated upon the employer’s receipt of the notice of revocation, and that termination may constitute a failure on the part of the beneficiary to maintain lawful nonimmigrant status, which itself would trigger an obligation to depart the United States immediately with his or her immediate family members, or face removal from the United States at a hearing initiated by ICE before an Immigration Judge.

These problems become even more complicated if the employer provides facilities for its own workers and for the employees of any of its contractors, consultants, staffing companies, or vendors. While AB 450 does not prohibit a California employer from voluntarily sharing whatever information it might possess about the employees of its contractors, this new law, by its terms, mandates, on penalty of civil fine, that the employer refuse to grant voluntary consent to “enter any non-public areas at a place of labor” – apparently irrespective of the party employing the particular workers at the place of labor. Such a refusal likewise under current USCIS practice would lead to a similarly insurmountable notice of revocation, thereby terminating the employment authorization and nonimmigrant status of a contractor who was the subject of an FDNS unannounced site visit, and conceivably, resulting in a breach of contract by the customer for precluding the vendor from fulfilling the object of the contract, i.e, the rendition of contractually-agreed services.

Good faith immigration compliance and voluntary internal audits? DOJ and DHS component agencies encourage employers to voluntarily conduct internal immigration-compliance audits, and prescribe procedures to (a) correct I-9 paperwork errors, and (b) reasonably investigate circumstances suggesting that an employee may lack employment authorization. Such audits sometimes require the cooperation of current employees, as, for example, if corrections must be made to the employee portion of the I-9, Section 1, or if the employer suspects that the documents of identity and employment eligibility that the employee previously presented may not be genuine.

Given that AB 450 prohibits reverifying a current employee’s eligibility to work in the United States, should California employers defensively adopt “head in the sand” policies to preclude or discourage voluntary immigration compliance audits? The answer will depend on the employer’s business circumstances and employment practices in the particular industry. It may also turn on whether an employer has become aware of facts or credible assertions that call into question the employment eligibility of one or more employees.

Under the constructive-knowledge rule, an employer will be deemed to know whatever could have been discovered if a reasonable investigation had been conducted. Thus, if an employer declines to investigate suspicious circumstances suggesting unauthorized employment, ICE can maintain that an employer has violated federal law because company officials should have known that the business had hired or continued to employ a worker while aware that the individual had no right to be employed in the United States. Consequently, as SHRM feared, AB 450 will “force human resource professionals to decide between abiding by federal law or state law.”

Unintended harm to workers, their unions, and business operations? While the constructive-knowledge rule, in effect, requires an employer to conduct a reasonable investigation, the rule does not dictate the speed of the investigation. In past ICE investigations, some field offices have expressly allowed an employer time to respond to an NSD by phasing-in the duration of time when workers whose employment eligibility has been questioned must reverify their employment eligibility. A compliance phase-in would give the employer time to reverify its challenged employees in tranches. Without internally posting a notice to employees that ICE has begun in I-9 investigation, an employer granted phase-in permission by ICE would (a) privately and without fanfare reverify the employment eligibility of its most recently hired or least skilled workers, (b) speedily hire replacements (who would quickly be trained by employees with longer tenure or greater expertise in the operations of the business), and (c) then reverify the most senior or essential workers.

In this way, employers could conduct a constructive-knowledge investigation sequentially over time, business operations could continue with less disruption, the most valued employees could continue in employment for the time being, and unions would continue to receive dues payments, while retaining the ability to negotiate severance packages for terminated employees.

What, then, is the likely outcome of AB 450’s requirement that the employer give public notice within 72 hours to all employees and the local union that ICE has served a NOI? Today, many employers have found that when employees learn of an ICE worksite investigation, they quickly disappear for fear of arrest and deportation. Leaving the employer in the lurch, an unknown number of undocumented workers merely purchase new identities and forms of work permission on the street – documentation that, with the increasing sophistication of counterfeiters, will appear to be genuine, and thus be used to get a new job with the next employer. And so the cycle continues. Rinse and repeat. Consequently, the 72-hour NOI notice requirement in AB 450 will likely only serve to disrupt businesses and prompt undocumented workers to switch jobs, while shrinking the duration and amount of dues payments to unions.

A bonanza for translators? AB 450 requires employers, within 72 hours of receiving an NOI, to post a notice at the worksite in the language the employer normally uses to communicate employment-related information to employees, announcing that ICE has served an NOI on the employer, and providing other required details. Although not clearly phrased, the posting obligation seems to include the duty to provide a translation of the NOI itself into the language(s) ordinarily used to communicate with employees.

California is a state that prides itself on its diversity, which necessarily entails a noncitizen population speaking a multiplicity of languages. Many workers in the state do not speak English well, but do speak a native language, be it Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Armenian, Khmer, Farsi, or Russian, among others.

Heaven forbid – for example – that ICE serves an NOI on a Friday. This will likely leave many an employer scrambling first to draft the AB 450 notice, and then to find weekend translators capable of quick turnaround to produce the required translations. Perhaps competent translators can be found, but probably only at a premium price for speedy, afterhours delivery.

The drafters of the legislation apparently did not realize, however, that ICE officers are usually quite willing to extend its own 72-hour regulatory deadline by a week or two for an employer to turn over its I-9s and other required records, or even longer, if the employer can provide a reasonable explanation for its inability to satisfy the 72-hour rule.

California lawmakers made no provision for extension of the posting deadline in AB 450. It therefore doesn’t take a Hollywood scriptwriter to visualize how this might play out:

(Scene 1) Mid-day on a Friday afternoon, ICE serves the employer with the NOI,

(Scene 2) As the weekend is about to begin, the employer scrambles to find a lawyer begins who will help word the AB 450 notice,

(Scene 3) At the same time, the employer scrambles to locate translators to prepare translations into multiple relevant languages,

(Scene 4) On Monday afternoon, just hours before the 72-hour deadline in AB 450, the employer posts the translations on the employee bulletin board,

(Scene 5) Later that afternoon, the workers read the posting, interpret it as a “run notice,” and flee the building,

(Scene 6) Minutes later, ICE officers – aware of the California statutory deadline – are already poised in the parking lot to apprehend the fleeing workers and process them for deportation, and

(Scene 7) Tuesday morning, the factory is idle and quiet, except for the angry voices of union bosses complaining to management about unfair labor practices.

* * *

AB 450 is not the first California encroachment on federal immigration law, and not likely the last. As the courts, federal immigration agencies, and the NLRB are left to sort out federal from state legal rights and duties amid the detritus of this law, California politicians will likely be at it again, concocting new immigration laws, while figuratively quoting a former governor’s thespian line: “[We’ll] be back!”

Seyfarth Synopsis:  California Governor Jerry Brown recently vetoed the Gender Pay Gap Transparency Act (AB 1209), which would have required California employers to produce pay data, without consideration of legitimate reasons for differences in pay, to the Secretary of State, who then would publish the data on the internet.

Read about this development in a recent post to Seyfarth’s Pay Equity Issues and Insights Blog.

Salary History Webinar tomorrow:  For further discussion about use of wage and salary history information across the country, please join the authors of the blog post for a webinar tomorrow, October 25, 2017, at 11:00 PT/1:00 CT. They will be talking about recent legislation in California, Oregon, and San Francisco (joining Massachusetts, Delaware, Puerto Rico, New York City and Philadelphia) in prohibiting employers from inquiring about wage history information from job applicants. Join them as they summarize the changes and legal implications and describe the practical considerations employers are considering in this new frontier. The webinar is free, but registration is required. Use this link to sign up.

Seyfarth Synopsis: The California Legislature has just created yet another protected class of individuals entitled to sue employers under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. The new class of potential plaintiffs are applicants denied employment because of their conviction history, where the employer is unable to justify relying on that conviction history to deny employment.

We’ve reported on two January 2017 developments for California employers that use criminal records in employment decisions: (1) Los Angeles enacted a city-wide “ban-the-box” ordinance, and (2) the Fair Employment & Housing Council approved new regulations that borrow heavily from the EEOC’s 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.”

The trend continues. Over the weekend, on October 14, 2017, Governor Jerry Brown announced that he has signed Assembly Bill 1008, which amends FEHA to add new Government Code section 12952. This section will restrict an employer’s ability to make hiring decisions based on an applicant’s conviction records, including a “ban-the-box” provision and a prohibition against considering conviction history until the applicant has received a conditional offer of employment. (It is only scant comfort to reflect that the final version of AB 1008 was not as stringent as the originally proposed bill, which would have placed even greater restrictions on consideration of criminal history.) With a fast-approaching effective date of January 1, 2018, California employers should review their policies and procedures now to ensure compliance.

Coverage

Section 12952, like other parts of FEHA, will apply to employers with five or more employees. Section 12592 exempts from its coverage only a small handful of positions:

  • positions for which government agencies are required by law to check conviction history,
  • positions with criminal justice agencies,
  • Farm Labor Contractors as defined in the Labor Code, and
  • positions as to which the law (g., SEC regulations) requires employers to check criminal history for employment purposes or restricts employment based on criminal history.

Inquiries About Conviction History

Section 12952 will make it unlawful for California employers to

  • include on a job application any question about conviction history, unless the application is presented after a conditional offer of employment,
  • inquire into or consider an applicant’s conviction history before extending a conditional offer of employment, and
  • consider, distribute, or disseminate information about criminal history that California already prohibits employers from considering, such as (a) an arrest not resulting in a conviction (except in the limited situations described in Labor Code section 432.7), (b) referral to or participation in a pretrial or post trial diversion program, and (c) convictions that have been sealed, dismissed, expunged, or statutorily eradicated pursuant to law.

Section 12952 expressly states that it will not prevent employers from conducting conviction history checks that are not covered by the new law.

Section 12952 borrows its definition of “conviction” from Labor Code section 432.7(a)(1), (3):  “a plea, verdict, or finding of guilt regardless of whether sentence is imposed by the court.” The term “conviction history” is somewhat broader, and can include certain arrests.

Individualized Assessment 

If an employer intends to deny hire because of a prior conviction, Section 12952 will require the employer to assess whether the individual applicant’s conviction history has a “direct and adverse relationship with the specific duties of the job that justify denying the applicant the position.” This individualized assessment must consider the nature and gravity of the criminal offense, the time that has passed since the offense and the completion of the sentence, and the nature of the job sought.

The employer, may, but need not, document the required individualized assessment.

Adverse Action Based on Conviction History

If the individualized assessment leads to a preliminary determination that the applicant’s conviction history is disqualifying, then the employer must provide a written notice. Section 12952 will require more than what the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires. Specifically, the written notice that Section 12952 will require must

  • identify the conviction at issue,
  • include a copy of any conviction history report (which means the notice is required regardless of the source of the conviction history),
  • explain the applicant’s right to respond to the notice before the employer’s decision becomes final,
  • state the deadline for that response, and
  • tell the applicant that the response may include evidence challenging the accuracy of the conviction history and evidence of rehabilitation or mitigating circumstances.

The applicant has five business days to respond to a preliminary notice. The employer, in then making its final employment decision, may, but need not, explain the reasoning for its final decision. (Note that the Los Angeles ordinance, by contrast, requires employers to document the individualized assessment and to give the applicant a copy of it before making a final decision.)

If the applicant timely notifies the employer that the applicant disputes the accuracy of the conviction history and is taking specific steps to obtain evidence, then the applicant has an additional five business days to respond. The employer must consider any information the applicant submits before the employer can make a final decision.

If an employer then makes a final decision to deny employment based solely or in part on conviction history, a second written notification must be provided to the applicant, which must include:

  • the final denial or disqualification,
  • any existing procedure the employer has to challenge the decision or request reconsideration, and
  • the right to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Again, the employer may, but need not, explain its final decision. (Under the Los Angeles ordinance, new requirements arise when the applicant provides any additional information upon receipt of the employer’s first notice and its initial completed assessment: the employer receiving that additional information must then complete a re-assessment and provide the applicant with a copy of it while notifying the applicant of the final decision.)

Remedies 

Because Section 12952 will be part of the FEHA, an aggrieved individual may sue for the full range of FEHA damages available, including compensatory damages, attorney’s fees, and costs.

Next Steps

Most immediately, California employers should determine whether they need to revise job applications, interview guidelines, and policies and procedures for criminal background checks. Many employers will need to revise their pre-adverse and adverse action letters to comply with the many laws regulating criminal background checks, and to revamp the timing of events in their hiring process.

Employers throughout the United States, and particularly multi-state employers, should continue to monitor developments in this and related areas of the law, including laws restricting the use of credit history information and the fair credit reporting laws.

 

Seyfarth Synopsis: Background screening companies that provide background checks to online child care job posting services in California may face increased civil liability as they seek to comply with new Assembly Bill No. 2036.

Parents want to employ only the most qualified individuals to watch over their children. Background checks on these individuals—often provided by consumer reporting agencies—therefore are at a high premium. The author of Assembly Bill 2036, Assembly member Patty Lopez, cited just this concern in support of her new bill, which imposes additional restrictions on businesses providing online childcare job posting services in California and on background screening companies providing background checks to those businesses: “This Bill is another good step to protecting our children and ensuring that child care consumers are making the most informed and safest decisions about the individual(s) they hire to care for their child[ren].”

In the old days, people who needed childcare would often engage a nanny referral service. Now, of course, there are websites (“online child care job posting services”) that list babysitters and nannies available for hire by parents (or other consumers). These websites usually state that the babysitters/nannies listed have undergone background checks. According to the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network, while parents trust online child care job posting services when they advertise that their providers have undergone background checks, these checks are often conducted by “third parties,” a process that makes it difficult to determine what information the background check may contain (for example, the check may not contain information from the FBI and the DOJ’s Child Abuse Central Index databases).

AB 2036 amends existing law by imposing new duties on businesses that offer child care services (for example, nannies and babysitters) via online job-posting. In particular, if a covered business provides access to a background check on child care providers listed on its website in California, the business must provide “by means of a one-click link on each California child care provider” a written description of the background check provided by the background screener. The background screener is responsible to provide this information to the business posting the child care services. Background screeners that fail to comply with the law may be liable to individuals using the job-posting websites.

For background screening, to whom exactly does this statute apply?

The statute applies to background screeners that “provide background checks for online child care posting websites in California.” These background screeners must “provide to the online child care posting services a written description of the background checks conducted,” as detailed below.

This language does not expressly address whether the statute applies to background screeners that are affiliated with the job-posting website but that provide the background checks directly to the users of the child care services rather than to the business offering the services.

What information must background screeners include in their descriptions?

At minimum, a background screener’s description of the information contained in the background checks must include:

  1. A detailed description of what is included in the background check.
  2. A chart that lists each county in California and the databases that are checked for each county, including the following information for each database, as applicable:
  • The source of the data, the name of the database used, and a brief description of the data included in the database.
  • The date range of the oldest data and the most recent data included.
  • How often the information is updated.
  • How the databases are checked (by name, social security number, fingerprints, etc.).
  • A list of the counties for which no data is available.

These requirements raise a host of issues, including:

  • Are these requirements general or specific? In other words, do they require a description of what background check services are generally offered, or do they require a description of what background check services were offered and provided on a particular individual?
  • Do the requirements include searches that are not tied to a county? For example, if a background screener includes social traces in background report, should the social trace be listed in the chart?
  • What do “database” and “source” mean, and how do the terms differ? The terms are undefined in AB 2036.  If records are obtained from a court, is the court considered a “database,” a “source,” or both?  What about records obtained from a vendor?
  • How frequently must a background screener update the descriptions? For example, if a database is updated regularly (and many are), the date range for the data in that database would vary regularly.

What are the liability risks and resulting penalties?

In the grand California tradition, AB 2036 provides a right to sue, and there are no restrictions on class actions. Any individual “damaged by a willful violation” can sue under the act. This class of individuals seems to encompass recipients and subjects of the reports (for example, parents requesting the reports and the providers who were the subject of the reports). Recoverable damages include general, special, and punitive damages. Because individuals must be “damaged” to sue, lawsuits under the statute are likely to be limited to claims involving financial loss or a plausible claim of emotional damage. In addition, the requirement of actual damage may make it difficult for individuals to bring class actions for violations of the statute.

The statute provides for civil penalties of $1,000 per offense. These penalties can be awarded in actions brought by government entities, but an action can proceed only if the defendant was notified of the violation and failed to correct it within 30 days of the notice.

So what next?

What AB 2036 means for background screeners is not fully clear, and we expect that there may be additional guidance from regulators and the courts as the statute is implemented. We will keep a close eye on this one, so please stay tuned for developments and updates!

If you have questions about the statute, including its application to your business, please contact Esther Slater McDonald, Marjorie Soto, or your favorite Seyfarth attorney.

Seyfarth Synopsis: Governor Jerry Brown recently signed pay equity legislation to build on SB 358, a gender pay equity bill that he signed just last year.

Recent state pay equity initiatives (in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York) have focused on gender. California is different. Leave it to the state that last year passed the nation’s strictest pay equity law as to gender to take it up another notch.  SB 1063, dubbed the “Wage Equality Act of 2016,” extends last year’s Fair Pay Act amendments to Labor Code section 1197.5 to cover unequal pay as to race and ethnicity. Thus, effective January 1, 2017, California employers must not pay employees a wage rate less than the rate paid to employees of a different race or ethnicity for substantially similar work. (Read our prior alert for a description of the Act’s requirements and prohibitions.) Meanwhile, newly enacted AB 1676 will prohibit employers from using an employee’s prior salary as the sole basis to justify a pay disparity. In the process, however, California has declined to follow the Massachusetts example of forbidding employer inquiries into an applicant’s prior salary.

SB 1063 was introduced in February 16, 2016, just four months after Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 358 (one of the nation’s most aggressive gender pay equity bills). The move to include race and ethnicity was foreshadowed last summer when the California National Organization of Women—sponsor of this year’s bill—opposed the Fair Pay Act (SB 358) for its failure to include pay equity protections for various additional categories protected by anti-discrimination laws (such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability status).

Senator Hall, who authored the Wage Equality Act of 2016, justified the opposition by saying that “the 65 year old California Equal Pay Act fails to include one of the largest factors for wage inequity—race and ethnicity.” Senator Hall cited a 2013 study by the American Association of University Women reporting that “Asian American women make 90 cents, African American women make 64 cents, and Hispanic or Latina women make just 54 cents for every dollar that a Caucasian man earns. The wage gap isn’t only between men and women, as African American men earn just 75% of the average salary of a Caucasian male worker.”

Opponents of SB 1063 objected that it would go too far, too fast: SB 358 is still in its infancy,with its standards likely to be tested over the next several years in litigation. Therefore, the opponents argued, “the legislature should allow time for employees, employers, and the courts to interpret and implement the new boundaries of the equal pay law before seeking to amend and expand it even further.” Opponents also noted that employees have other ways to challenge pay discrimination. The Fair Employment and Housing Act already prohibits discrimination against people in many classifications, including race and ethnicity.

AB 1676, which was passed concurrently with SB 1063, will amend Section 1197.5 (the same section SB 1063 amends) to prohibit employers from using prior salary as the sole justification for a pay disparity. In its original proposed form, AB 1676 would have prohibited employers from seeking an applicant’s salary history information, just as its vetoed predecessor, AB 1017, had attempted to do last year. In vetoing AB 1017, Governor Brown stated that further gender pay equity changes should wait until we see how SB 358 plays out. The removal of any ban on asking about salary history likely made AB 1676 palatable to the Governor, and kept California from matching the new Massachusetts law, which prohibits Massachusetts employers from requesting an applicant’s pay history, unless the applicant has voluntarily disclosed that information.

What’s an employer to do? First, self-assess where your company is on pay equity. If you’ve not analyzed the issue before, conducting a proactive pay equity analysis could be the first and best step to take to achieve fair pay and diminish legal risk. Through the use of statistical models and analyses (conducted by a labor economist), employers can test the extent to which permissible factors explain existing pay differentials. This “look under the hood” is especially important for companies considering making public proclamations about the company’s state of pay equity. With SB 1063 now looming on the horizon, companies should not limit these analyses to gender. Engaging legal counsel to direct and conduct this work under attorney-client privilege minimizes risk that this analysis and related deliberations might be discovered in litigation. Even companies that are well-versed in pay equity are wise to revisit the issue with an eye to race and ethnicity. And all companies should review their written policies, practices, and hiring, promotion, and compensation factors to ensure that all comply with the requirements of the California Fair Pay Act.

Join members of Seyfarth’s Pay Equity Group and top labor economists on November 30 for a robust discussion around strategies for navigating the complexities of “pay equity”.

Seyfarth Synopsis: On September 25 (yes, a Sunday), Governor Brown signed into law Senate Bill 1241. SB 1241, effective January 1, 2017, adds Section 925 to the Labor Code to restrain the ability of employers to require employees to litigate or arbitrate employment disputes (1) outside of California or (2) under the laws of another state. The only exception is where the employee was individually represented by a lawyer in negotiating an employment contract.

For companies that have headquarters outside of California and that employ people who work and reside in California, this assault on the freedom of contract is not welcome news.

Existing Law and the Genesis of SB 1241

Companies have long used forum-selection clauses and choice-of-law provisions in an effort to avoid California courts apply California law to employment disputes, especially those involving unfair competition. SB 1241 generally invalidates these provisions.

There often are legitimate reasons to have employment disputes decided where the company primarily does its business. Companies may prefer a court in their own state to decide which law (California’s or some other state’s) will govern a dispute. Under the common law, courts apply “substantial relationship” and “contrary to a fundamental policy of a state” tests to see if California law or some other law should govern a particular case.

Courts have long held that the freedom to contract favors the enforcement of forum-selection clauses. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 reinforced this rule in Atlantic Marine Constr. Co. Although not an employment case, Atlantic Marine broadly endorsed forum-selection clauses, stating that “courts should not unnecessarily disrupt the parties’ settled expectations” and that usually “ ‘the interest of justice’ is served by holding parties to their bargain.” Since that time, federal district courts in California have increasingly given more weight to forum-selection clauses.

What SB 1241 Provides

As we reported earlier, SB 1241 was among various employment-related bills that went to the Governor at the end of August 2016. SB 1241, the full text of which appears here, will be enacted as Labor Code section 925. It applies to employment contracts entered into, modified, or extended on or after January 1, 2017.

The key provision of Section 925 is its first section:

(a) An employer shall not require an employee who primarily resides and works in California, as a condition of employment, to agree to a provision that would do either of the following:

(1) Require the employee to adjudicate outside of California a claim arising in California.

(2) Deprive the employee of the substantive protection of California law with respect to a controversy arising in California.

A key exception to the application of Section 925 appears in subdivision (e):

(e) This section shall not apply to a contract with an employee who is in fact individually represented by legal counsel in negotiating the terms of an agreement to designate either the venue or forum in which a controversy arising from the employment contract may be adjudicated or the choice of law to be applied.

Thus, Section 925 generally forbids employers to require California employees to adjudicate claims outside of California or to submit to the laws of another state. An employee who successfully sues to void such offending provisions can recover reasonable attorney’s fees. Lab. Code § 925(e).

History of Labor Code Section 925

Section 925 represents a direct response to work-arounds that some employers have developed in attempts to dodge peculiar California law, such as California’s prohibition of covenants not to compete. (See Bus. & Prof. Code § 16600.)

Section 925 follows Governor Brown’s refusal to sign Assembly Bill 465. As we wrote earlier, AB 465 attempted to ban mandatory employment arbitration agreements. Governor Brown’s veto message explained that purported employment abuses “should be specified and solved by targeted legislation, not a blanket prohibition.” Section 925 is one such piece of targeted legislation, attacking contractual provisions that are hostile to California law, whether they appear in an arbitration clause or elsewhere within an employment agreement.

What Labor Code Section 925 Does and Does Not Do

Under prior law, a party seeking to enforce a forum-selection clause in an employment agreement already faced an uphill battle: it had to “prove that enforcement of the forum selection clause would not result in a significant diminution of rights.” Indeed, the Court of Appeal has refused to enforce an employer’s forum-selection clause and related choice-of-law clause because they violated California public policy on employee compensation. Section 925 changes the employer’s battle from difficult to hopeless: clauses that once were simply presumptively unenforceable will now be categorically unenforceable, except for clauses negotiated with an employee “individually represented by legal counsel.”

Although Section 925 apparently is a reaction to Governor Brown’s October 2015 veto of legislation that would have banned mandatory employment arbitration agreements, Section 925 applies to all employment contracts, regardless of whether they contain arbitration clauses. Section 925 affects arbitration clauses by ensuring that employment arbitrations with California residents generally will occur in California and apply California law. Arbitration clauses that contain forum-selection or choice-of-law provisions that offend Section 925 will be to that extent contrary to public policy, an outcome that would make enforcement of the overall arbitration agreement more difficult.

Section 925 does not affect employment agreements already in effect. By its terms, the law applies only to contracts entered into, modified, or extended on or after January 1, 2017.

Open Questions (or Things Left to Litigate)

Section 925 does not define what it means for an employee to “primarily reside[] and work[] in California.” Nor does it specify what qualifies as a “substantive protection of California law” that it seeks to protect.

Although the term “primarily” is vague, it often will not be difficult to determine whether an employee primarily resides and works in California. More difficult would be determining whether applying the law of another state would “[d]eprive the employee of the substantive protection of California law.” Some California courts have recognized that choice-of-law provisions are enforceable where the substantive law of the selected state provides the same or similar protections as California.