Seyfarth Synopsis: Halloween is lurking just around the corner, and workplace festivities may present unusual challenges. Unsafe or offensive costumes, religious discrimination, and harassment are among the issues potentially facing employers around this time of year. Here are some tips to avoid the tricks and enjoy the treats.

Exorcise Your Right to Have Fun

It’s not uncommon to allow employees to dress up when Halloween falls on a weekday, but without proper guidelines, it can quickly lead to complications. Employers should urge employees to be mindful when choosing costumes that they are still expected to comply with any workplace anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. If the workplace typically requires a dress code, employers permitting Halloween costumes should announce that, while employees may dress up, they should utilize sensible judgment.

Employees should be reminded to avoid costumes that poke fun at a particular culture, that are overly sexy, or that relate to a particular religion, as employees with differing backgrounds or beliefs may take offense. Political costumes can be contentious as well, especially when, as is the case this year, Halloween occurs just before Election Day.

There are also special considerations with costumes when it comes to certain environments. For instance, costumes for healthcare professionals working with patients that conjure thoughts of death or injury, and excessively scary costumes in places catering to children, should be reconsidered. These concepts ought to be applied to any guidance pertaining to decorations as well.

If You’ve Got It, Haunt It

Halloween often prompts individuals to dress provocatively, which, in many cases, is probably against the company’s dress code. However, previous sexual harassment cases demonstrate that sometimes a costume doesn’t need to be overtly suggestive to elicit inappropriate comments.

This issue is particularly crucial given the recent spike in #MeToo lawsuits and several incoming California laws aiming to strengthen enforcement of sexual harassment laws and make it easier for victims to pursue civil claims. Therefore, employees should be reminded that, regardless of a coworker’s Halloween attire, there’s no excuse to make statements that would otherwise be unacceptable.

Oh My Gourd

While Halloween is largely celebrated as a secular holiday, religious discrimination can still be a concern, and employees should not be penalized for opting out of the festivities. This has been a common issue for the EEOC with respect to Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not observe certain holidays. For example, this was previously addressed when an employee was fired for refusing to participate in a workplace Halloween party, after notifying her employer that it was against her religious beliefs to do so. Additionally, due to its pagan roots, some employees may believe Halloween to be a celebration of death or the occult, and take offense to any pressure to join in.

The Fair Employment and Housing Act and the California Workplace Religious Freedom Act both prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, and require employers to accommodate employees’ religious practices and observances. Some employees (such as those who practice Wicca, for example) might consider Halloween to be a religious holiday, and request time off from work. Notably, FEHA protections apply to more than just the traditional, more commonly recognized religions, so long as the employee’s beliefs are “sincerely held.” To avoid running afoul of these regulations, employers should have a plan for responding to such requests.

Let’s Get This Party Startled

An important, but easy to overlook, concern is the potential for costumes to create a safety hazard. Loose-fitting costumes or those with pieces that hang away from the body can be dangerous to employees working with heavy machinery or driving a vehicle. And, even employees’ innocent attempts to frighten coworkers can end in injury. Employers who wish to avoid workers’ compensation claims and complaints filed with CAL/OSHA should remind employees to dress with safety in mind.

Finally, there is also a risk that certain costume pieces will result in employees feeling threatened. A realistic replica of a weapon can cause panic and accessories that can be used as a weapon may cause fear and actual harm. In order to protect the physical and mental safety of all employees, employers should discourage costumes involving weapons.

Workplace Solutions: Employers should feel free to allow some Halloween fun at work, as long as employees are made aware of expectations to comply with company policies, respect their colleagues, and maintain safe working conditions.

Edited By: Coby Turner

Seyfarth Synopsis: New Year’s resolutions typically address health and well-being. Many among us have resolved this year to get off the couch, to sweat a bit more often to the “oldies,” to meditate and be mindful, and to eat less cake and fewer tacos. And so one might think that courts would endorse the EEOC’s approval of employer-sponsored wellness programs, as a great way to encourage employees to follow through on their health goals. But beware! A recent federal court decision in D.C. has cited two statutes—the ADA and GINA—to roll back the EEOC regulation approving employer wellness programs. This decision, though prospective only, may significantly affect the structure of such programs, including those in California.

The Legal Landscape

GINA—the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008—is a federal law that protects individuals from genetic discrimination in health insurance and employment. GINA prohibits employers from using genetic information in hiring, firing, promotion, and pay decisions, or in determining privileges or terms of employment, including health insurance, although employers may collect genetic information as part of a wellness program, so long as the employee’s provision of the information is “voluntary.”

ADA—the Americans with Disabilities Act—prohibits many medical inquiries and generally permits employers to collect medical data only in connection with a “voluntary” employee health program.

California’s GINA equivalent—CalGINA—passed in 2011. CalGINA added “genetic information” to the list of protected classes found in California laws, including public accommodations statutes, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), and the Health and Safety Code. CalGINA also empowers plaintiffs to recover unlimited monetary damages, without facing the damages caps existing under federal law.

The EEOC, administering both GINA and the ADA, has issued regulations allowing employers to provide employees with financial incentives—up to 30%—to participate in wellness programs and to disclose genetic information in order to participate. These incentives effectively penalize employees who fail to participate, as they would pay more for health coverage. Many California employers—equally subject to the ADA, GINA, and the broader CalGINA—rely on the EEOC regulations to structure incentives in their workplace wellness programs. In light of CalGINA’s unlimited damages provision, any changes to the permissible structuring of wellness programs creates peculiar exposure for California employers.

The Challenge to the ADA and GINA Regulations

In October 2016, AARP (once called the American Association of Retired Persons) challenged the EEOC regulations, arguing that wellness programs are not really “voluntary” if, as the EEOC would allow, employers can charge employees up to 30% more if they refuse to disclose the medical and genetic information required by a wellness program. The EEOC defended its regulations as a reasonable effort to harmonize ADA, GINA, and HIPAA regulations to promote overall health through participation in employer wellness programs.

The Decision

In its ruling in AARP v. EEOC, a federal district court in the District of Columbia found that the EEOC rules were unlawful, on the ground that the EEOC had failed to provide a reasoned explanation for its decision to adopt the 30% incentive levels. The EEOC, in particular, had failed to show how a 30% differential in employee cost would be consistent with the employee’s participation being “voluntary” as opposed to coerced. On December 20, 2017, the court vacated the EEOC regulations and remanded them to the EEOC for reconsideration.

To avoid unnecessary disruption to employers and employees, the court left the regulations in place till January 1, 2019. While this distant date may seem to leave plenty of time to review and revise wellness programs, employers would do well not to procrastinate.

This resolution is particularly significant for California employers who risk unlimited exposure if they do not restructure their wellness programs in advance of January 2019.

Legislative Changes Looming

Employers should keep an ear to the ground for legislation that may further adjust wellness programs. In March 2017, House Representative Virginia Fox of North Carolina introduced H.R. 1313, the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act. The new bill has yet to come before the Senate. The bill, if passed into law, would allow employers to impose penalties of up to 30% of the total cost of the employee’s health insurance on employees who do not provide genetic information to participate in an employer-sponsored wellness program. The bill would thereby weaken the role of the EEOC’s oversight over genetic discrimination in wellness programs.

Workplace Solutions

California employers should know that the decision rolling back the EEOC regulations can threaten the viability of their wellness programs. Employers should now assess the extent to which their wellness programs provide incentives for divulging medical information, and decide whether those incentives, in light of the evolving case law, are defensible as being truly “voluntary.” Given the litigious nature of the Golden State, animated by the incentive of unlimited damages, California employers should be especially wary of programs that use financial incentives or penalties to encourage wellness program participation. Cautious employers should start the new year with a fresh look at the incentives built into their wellness programs and take steps to revise them as necessary.

Happy New Year!

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: On July 17, 2017, the California Fair Employment and Housing Council (FEHC) heard public comments on its proposed regulations covering national origin discrimination under the FEHA. Discussion centered on employer-imposed language restrictions, English proficiency requirements, and immigration-related employment practices. Look for final regulations later this year. 

The FEHC kicked off its third meeting of the year, this time in San Francisco. Prominent on the agenda: the proposed and rapidly advancing national origin discrimination regulations. As stated in the FEHC’s notice of the meeting: “The overall objective of the proposed amendments is to describe how the [FEHA] applies to the protected class of national origin in the employment context, primarily by centralizing and codifying existing law, clarifying terms, and making technical corrections.”

A call to enact these regulations first came from Legal Aid at Work (an employee-oriented legal services organization formerly known as the Legal Aid Society, Employment Law Center), during the FEHC’s August 31, 2016 hearing. The FEHC quickly created a subcommittee and drafted regulations, which we previously reported on here, that largely mirrored the EEOC’s guidance on national origin discrimination.

At the July 17 hearing, public comments revolved around (a) language restrictions (“English only” rules), (b) employer requirements for English language proficiency, (c) discovery as to an individual’s immigration status during the liability phase of any lawsuit or other proceeding to enforce the FEHA’s prohibition of national origin discrimination, and (d) expanding the definition of what constitutes harassment on the basis of national origin. The only public comments received at the hearing were from employee-leaning individuals and groups.

English only. The draft regulations would make it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to adopt a policy that creates an “English only” rule, unless (1) the rule is job-related and consistent with business necessity, (2) the rule is narrowly tailored, and (3) employees get effective notice of when and where the rule applies and what consequences result from a violation.

The regulations would also provide that an English-only policy would not be valid simply for promoting business convenience or reflecting customer preference. Representatives of Legal Aid at Work emphasized at the hearing that the latter should be amended to state a co-worker preference, not the customer’s.

Further, the regulations would explicitly presume that English-only rules violate FEHA unless the employer can prove “business necessity”—defined narrowly as “an overriding legitimate business purpose” that is necessary to the safe and efficient operation of the business, where the policy effectively serves that purpose, and where there is no alternative to the language restriction that would serve the business purpose as well, with less discriminatory impact. One commentator at the hearing argued that the FEHC should expand this presumption to find a violation if there is no effective employee notification about the language restrictions. Legal Aid at Work also called for the FEHC to draft a new section to address how an English-proficiency requirement relates to an employee’s ability to perform the job. These folks would like CA to distinguish itself from the reasoning of Garcia v. Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center, in which the court approved an employer’s requirement for verbal and written English proficiency in part because English was the dominant language in the area.

Discovery of Immigration Status. The FEHC also heard public comments to clarify the complex rule about when discovery into an individual’s immigration status is allowed during the liability phase of a proceeding. The proposed regulations would permit such discovery “only when the person seeking to make the inquiry has shown by clear and convincing evidence that such inquiry is necessary to comply with federal immigration law.” The commentators argued that mere possession (or lack) of a driver’s license would not constitute “clear and convincing evidence,” as all California residents are eligible to receive a license, regardless of immigration status.

Expansion of “harassment.” A representative of the California Employment Lawyers Association (a group of plaintiffs’ lawyers calling themselves an employee-rights group) called for expansion of the harassment portion of the regulations, to include specific reference to banning creation of a hostile work environment on the basis of national origin. Speakers also asked that the FEHC expand what would constitute as per se harassment to include deportation threats against an individual’s blended family members (i.e., step-parents, step-aunts and uncles, and step-children).

The comment period for the proposed regulations closed at 5 p.m. on July 17th. We anticipate the FEHC will consider all comments before issuing a final statement of reasons and potentially revising the proposed regulations.

We will keep you apprised of what the FEHC opines next on the topic of national origin regulation. For advice on how these regulations may affect your business, reach out to your favorite Seyfarth attorney.

Edited by Colleen Regan.

Seyfarth Synopsis: California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing has just issued its Annual Report on civil rights complaints during 2016. Here are some highlights.

The DFEH hails as the largest state civil rights agency in the country, with 220 full-time employees operating out of five offices throughout California. Its annual report makes clear that its core work is litigation. It sues chiefly under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, California’s more expansive version of federal anti-discrimination law, and also sues under the Unruh Civil Rights Act, the Disabled Persons Act, and the Ralph Civil Rights Act.

The annual report comes in the DFEH’s fourth year as an active litigant. Beginning in 2013, the DFEH gained power to file lawsuits to pursue violations of the state’s anti-discrimination laws. No longer is there administrative adjudication of claims by the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (now defunct). The DFEH now has broad authority to sue California employers, housing providers, and other entities for unlimited compensatory damages, as well as attorney fees and costs. Moreover, the DFEH can launch state-wide class or representative actions for systematic or large-scale violations of state civil rights laws. And, like its big sister, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (which has always been able to sue in court), the DFEH may go beyond monetary damages and demand certain forms of “affirmative relief,” such as employee retraining, redrafting and posting of policies, and regular monitoring to ensure compliance. In short, the DFEH is now a fully operational litigation shop, employing investigators, litigators, paralegals, and mediators.

A Tidal Wave of Complaints. The DFEH received more than 23,000 general administrative complaints and inquires in 2016. The amount was on par with 2015, and significantly more than the 19,000 filed in 2014. About 93% of 2016 complaints were employment-related, 6% were housing matters; the rest involved claims under the Unruh, Ralph, and Disabled Persons Acts. About 17,000 complaints resulted in formal charges filed with the DFEH. Most of the formal charges (12,242) requested an immediate right to sue, thus bypassing the DFEH’s investigation process.

A plurality of the 2016 formal charges (6,614, or 38%) originated out of Los Angeles County. Next in order were Orange, San Diego, and San Bernardino Counties (7%, 6%, 4% respectively). Together, these four counties created most of the DFEH’s 2016 workload: SoCal employers beware! Surprisingly, Sacramento County—not San Francisco County—accounted for most charges filed in Northern California (Alameda County was the most active in the Bay Area). Placer County, with 120 formal charges, was the most litigious in 2016 in proportion to its population size.

In terms of demographics, little is known about the 2016 class of DFEH complainants. The DFEH tracked only race and national origin, on the basis of the complainants’ self-reporting. Only 51% of complainants identified their race, and 65% identified their national origin. Of those who self-reported, Caucasian individuals topped the list with 35% of complaints; American or U.S. national origin was most reported, at 52% of complaints. Individuals identifying as Hispanic or Latino filed 28% of complaints in 2016, and those identifying as African American filed 22%. The DFEH did not collect data on the complainants’ sex, gender, age, religion, marital status, household income, or other demographic information.

Most Complaints Did Not Settle. The DFEH investigated 4,799 complaints in 2016. The DFEH settled a total of 1,036 complaints (21%), and referred 118 to the Legal Division, which brought 31 civil actions. The remaining 3,700 complaints were presumably withdrawn by the complainant, settled without the DFEH’s participation, dismissed by the DFEH, or consolidated into a single lawsuit.

Moneywise, the DFEH’s Enforcement Division resolved 573 complaints for a total of $2,635,979, which was the most settlements for any division (averaging $4,600 per settlement). The Dispute Resolution Division, which conducts mediation when the parties voluntarily agree to mediate, brought in the highest dollar amounts via 417 settlements with $7,385,372 ($17,710 average). The Legal Division raised $1,553,800 by settling 46 complaints ($33,778 average). In total, the DFEH conducted 783 mediations in 2016 (up considerably from 632 in 2015 and 590 in 2014).

The DFEH Carefully Selects Which Cases To Try. Less than 1% of 2016 complaints resulted in litigation. Of the 4,799 claims the DFEH investigated, it referred only 118 (2%) to the Legal Division, which then brought only 26% of that total to litigation. As noted above, the DFEH filed 31 lawsuits for 75 complainants during 2016, while filing 36 lawsuits for 57 complainants during 2015.

One-half of the 118 complaints referred to the Legal Division were housing-related. Employment claims made up 40%, followed by Unruh Act claims at 6%, Ralph Civil Rights claims at 3%, and Disabled Persons Act claims at 1%. Substantially more employment claims had been referred to the Legal Division in 2015 (73 of 130 complaints, or 56%).

Housing-related complaints were statistically the DFEH’s priority in 2016. The annual report does not specify the total number of housing complaints, but nearly 70% of complaints involved claims for FEHA housing violations. This percentage is markedly higher than in 2015, where only 36% complaints related to housing issues. Employment complaints were king in 2015 comprising 59% of complaints, but that number decreased in 2016 to 25%. Overall, the DFEH was consistently more focused in 2015 and 2016 on FEHA violations—including employment and housing claims—than with complaints regarding the Unruh, Ralph, and Disabled Persons Acts.

Disability discrimination was the claim most frequently asserted by the DFEH in 2016 in litigated matters (as it was in 2015), appearing seven times in the employment context and 11 times in the housing context. Race and ancestry discrimination were asserted only once, sex/gender discrimination only twice, and sexual harassment only four times. Retaliation was asserted seven times against employers and five times against housing providers.

Lessons For 2017 And Beyond. The DFEH is evidently hand-picking the few complaints it takes to court each year. Only a small percentage of claims make their way to the DFEH’s Legal Division, which is the final stage before a lawsuit is filed, so employers and housing providers should consult with litigation counsel if they find themselves in that unfortunate position (or earlier).

The data and public filings, consistent with our experience with the DFEH, indicate that the DFEH did not target any particular industry or size of entity in 2016: public entities, such as high schools and cities, as well as small non-profit organizations found themselves in the DFEH’s crosshairs. And the DFEH hauled into court businesses in virtually all industries, including banking and financial services, food and agriculture, real estate, retail, hospital and healthcare, insurance, commercial carriers/airlines, manufacturing, and entertainment. Many cases were brought on behalf of multiple individuals, and we can expect that trend to continue as the DFEH appears to find multiple-complainant litigation an efficient way broaden its enforcement reach. Inasmuch as the EEOC has used systematic litigation for years as way to grab headlines and pressure employers to change their policies, we can expect the DFEH to follow suit. The DFEH went to trial on some cases, although verdict results are not summarized publicly (the DFEH has not issued any press releases of DFEH jury wins from 2016).

Finally, in that the DFEH’s focus on litigation in 2016 (and 2015) was on disability and retaliation issues in employment and housing, California companies would be wise to review policies and practices on disability accommodation over the next year. Our firm is available to assist in that process and provide recommendations on how to best avoid DFEH scrutiny, and defend any civil action by the DFEH if necessary.

Edited by Colleen Regan.

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: 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:  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.

With the 2016 hiring season well under way, California employers are well advised to reconsider their use of criminal records in making hiring decisions.  Although employers are probably aware of “ban the box” and other legislative initiatives, they may not be as familiar with the liability exposure they may create by when using blanket policies to reject applicants because of their criminal histories.  On February 19, 2016, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) announced proposed regulations governing the consideration of criminal history in employment decisions, which will enumerate limitations to the use of criminal history.

According to an EEOC survey, 92% of employers subject at least some candidates to criminal background checks.  Since issuing guidelines on the use of criminal records in 2012, the EEOC has embarked on an aggressive campaign against employer use of criminal records in employment prescreening.  While some EEOC lawsuits have failed, others have resulted in multimillion dollar settlements, such as a $3.13 million prelawsuit settlement with Pepsi.  Each time, the EEOC has focused on whether the employer’s reliance on criminal records has an adverse impact on applicants with protected characteristics, such as race, national origin, or disability.  Of particular note to California employers, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”), has recently become more active in pursuing individual and class-based claims, under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), California’s counterpart to Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

In recent years, we’ve seen individual and class actions asserting indirect discrimination, or “disparate impact” discrimination, primarily involving race and national origin.  Because about  one-sixth to one-fourth of individuals with a criminal record also have a diagnosable mental disability, we anticipate increased litigation by job applicants with disabilities who have a criminal record.  The disabled community has faced historical exclusion from the workplace, and a disproportionate number of them have criminal histories.  And, as mentioned, the DFEH has now become more active in initiating such cases.  Thus, when employers adopt across-the-board hiring practices that reject candidates with criminal records, they may be exposing themselves to lawsuits under the ADA or the FEHA.  This risk is especially prominent in California, because the FEHA defines “disability” much more broadly than the ADA does.  California law defines a disability as any mental or physiological disorders that limit major life activities, as opposed to the ADA definition, which requires that the condition substantially limit major life activities.

On the other side, employers have justifiable reasons for hiring practices that consider criminal background.  Employers must guard against theft and fraud and try to avoid liability for  negligent hiring.

Employers thus may perceive a dilemma of (a) not considering criminal histories at all or (b) facing potential discrimination suits.  Though there are as many solutions as there are questions, the best practice has always been to ensure that a criminal history is not the sole reason to exclude a candidate, and to use it in conjunction with other business reasons.  Each candidate’s qualifications deserve individualized attention, with an awareness of potential disability issues. Employers would also be well advised to structure narrowly tailored hiring policies to ensure that they prevent not only racial discrimination, but disability discrimination.  Categorical exclusions based on a criminal record invite a host of potential risks of litigation under the ADA or FEHA that risk-averse employers will want to avoid.

Edited by Michael A. Wahlander.