Seyfarth Synopsis: Recent California legislation, including laws banning questions about salary history and criminal convictions, has bought new interview jitters for employers. These new laws, along with the Fair Employment and Housing Act’s prohibitions against questions going to an applicant’s protected status, confirms the point that there is such a thing as a “bad interview question.” In this ever-changing legal landscape, it is important for California employers to know what they can and cannot ask candidates in a job interview.

Although Michael Scott’s fictional character in The Office would have us believe there is no such thing as a “bad question,” that expression holds less true in California today than ever. California’s legislative updates in the last year have made job interviews more perilous than ever for the unwary employer.

The Legislature has recently introduced prohibitions on salary history and criminal conviction questions for certain employers. What is more, the FEHA prohibits questions like Michael Scott’s zinger, “Why are you the way that you are?”—a question that could go to various protected statuses, such as race, national origin, sex, nationality, and gender.

While such restrictions seem straightforward, implementing them is not always a no-brainer. Indeed, according to one survey, one in five hiring managers admitted that they have asked a question in a job interview only to find out later that it was illegal to ask.

So if you are looking to recruit for a temporary role, or hiring to fill the next coveted regional manager role at Dunder Mifflin, certain interview questions can have you breaking a sweat in California in 2019:

  1. Have You Ever Been Convicted of a Crime?

What used to be a common check-the-box question on employment applications is now illegal to ask before the employment offer stage. In late 2017, California joined several states in introducing “ban the box” laws to reduce barriers to applicants in the pre-hiring stage. Under AB 1008, California employers with more than five employees now must not

  • include on any job application questions that seek the disclosure of an applicant’s conviction history,
  • ask about or consider the conviction history of an applicant until he/she has received a conditional offer, or
  • consider, distribute, or disseminate information related to specified prior arrests, diversions, and convictions when conducting a conviction history background check.
  • San Francisco’s version of the “ban the box” legislation provides even greater protections to job candidates and includes stiff penalties for violations.
  1. How Much Do You Currently Make?

With the passage of AB 168, effective January 1, 2018, California employers must not ask job applicants for “salary history information” or rely on that information in deciding whether to offer a job and how much to pay. But if the applicant voluntarily discloses salary history, the employer may consider or rely on that information in setting salary so long as prior salary is not the only factor justifying any disparity in pay.

Under recent legislation clarifying the scope of AB 168, employers can ask about an applicant’s salary expectations for the position.

  1. Where Are You From?

The innocent icebreaker questions, “Where were you born?” or “Where are you from?” or “How long have you lived in the U.S.?” can land employers in hot water. Such questions, though seemingly offhanded, can be interpreted as questions about the applicant’s national origin.

Also, California’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency has made it clear that the state’s labor protections apply to all employees—regardless of their immigration status. Thus, you should stay clear of questions about a candidate’s citizenship (unless U.S. citizenship is a legal job requirement). You can, however, ask whether the applicant has a legal right to work in the United States, so long as you do not do so on a discriminatory basis.

  1. When Did You Graduate High School?

Questions about a candidate’s age are prohibited under both California’s FEHA and the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Thus, employers should stay away from questions that could reveal a candidate’s age, like “What year did you graduate high school?”

You may ask a candidate’s age, however, if the job has a minimum age requirement, for example, if it involves serving alcohol.

  1. Are You Married?

Any questions related to parenthood or marital status are off limits. Prohibited questions include whether an applicant is married, pregnant, or plans to be in the future. Even the innocuous question, “What does your spouse do?” should be avoided as it could be seen as a round-about way of getting to the candidate’s marital status. It’s perfectly OK, though, to ask such questions after the candidate has been hired.

Workplace Solutions:

You may find yourself at an interview in the predicament Michael Scott describes best, “Sometimes I’ll start a sentence and I don’t even know where it’s going. I just hope I find it along the way.” Often people develop an easy rapport at an interview, making it hard to “unsay” questions—even illegal ones. Take note of the following guidelines to ace that next interview so you can indeed be the “World’s Best Boss.”

  • Read the fact sheet developed by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which offers guidance on questions employers can ask applicants.
  • To the extent feasible, prepare questions in advance, to help avoid drifting off into forbidden territory.
  • Train job interviewers and HR personnel on what interview questions are illegal and improper.

If you have any questions about this guidance or about illegal pre-hiring questions in California, feel free to contact your favorite Seyfarth attorney.

Seyfarth Synopsis: Governor Jerry Brown has already signed into law legislation covering meal period exceptions for truck drivers delivering commercial feed, adding communications to be considered as “privileged” for purposes of defamation suits, removing a reference to the seven-day waiting period for disability benefits under the paid family leave program, and clarifying salary history information.

As temperatures begin to drop, with pumpkin spiced lattes and the smells of dew in the air, things are still heating up in the Governor’s office. With only 16 days remaining in his signing period of his final term in office, the Governor has been active. This week he has been focused on bills covering climate—as he kicked off the Global Climate Action Summit on September 12 and recently signed bills blocking offshore oil drilling expansion, reducing carbon emissions, and setting a 100% clean electricity goal for the state. In addition, the Governor signed a much talked about bill, SB 954, requiring printed disclosures to mediation participants concerning mediation confidentiality.

While we’re keeping an eye on all employment bills sitting on his desk, here’s a quick recap of what he has already approved.  All these new laws take effect January 1, 2019 unless otherwise stated.

Meal Periods. Sponsored by the California Grain and Feed Association, AB 2610 carves out an exemption to Labor Code 512 by allowing truck drivers who transport commercial feed (i.e., livestock feed) to “remote, rural areas” to take a meal period after the sixth hour if their regular rate of pay is at least one and a half times the state minimum wage and the driver is subject to overtime pay.  Drivers must still be provided a second meal period at the tenth hour. The bill does not define “remote, rural areas,” but bill sponsors point to factors such as road conditions – narrow, twisting, in higher elevations or mountainous regions; limited rest stops, closed rest stops, or lack of road space to safely take a meal period; and low average speeds (e.g., 40-50 mph).

Privileged Communications. AB 2770 amends Section 47 of the Civil Code to add three types of communications regarding sexual harassment that are now considered “privileged” communications—meaning they cannot be used as a basis for defamation claim—unless they are made with malice (i.e., statements made with complete disregard for the truth or false accusations made out of spite, ill will, or hatred towards the alleged harasser). Specifically, the bill protects:

  1. Reports of sexual harassment made by an employee to their employer based on credible evidence and without malice;
  2. Communications made without malice regarding the sexual harassment allegations between the employer and “interested persons” (such as witnesses or victims); and
  3. Non-malicious statements made to prospective employers as to whether a decision to rehire, or not, would be based on a determination that the former employee engaged in sexual harassment.

Paid Family Leave. Prior legislation that went into effect on January 1, 2018 removed the seven-day waiting period before an eligible employee may receive family temporary disability benefits (under the paid family leave program, which provides wage replacement benefits to workers who take time off work to care for a seriously ill family member or to bond with a minor child within one year of birth or placement). AB 2587 removes the seven-day waiting period reference in Section 33013.1 of the Unemployment Insurance Code, since the waiting period rule has been removed.

Salary History Information. This year’s Fair Pay Act bill, AB 2282, was noted as sensible legislation that amends and clarifies ambiguities in Labor Code sections 432.3 and 1197.5 created by prior pay equity legislation—AB 1676 (Chaptered in 2016) and AB 168 (Chaptered in 2017). Read our in-depth analysis of AB 2282 here.

Immigration Status. SB 785, which went into effect upon the Governor’s signing on May 17, 2018 with a January 1, 2020 sunset date, prohibits the disclosure of an individual’s immigration status in open court in a civil or criminal action unless the party wishing to disclose the information requests a confidential in camera hearing and the judge deems the evidence relevant and admissible.

What other new laws will fall upon our Californian employers? We’ll keep our eyes and ears glued to his office anxiously waiting to see what may fall next—fueled by our PSL coffees, of course. Stay tuned for our next in-depth update coming after Governor Brown’s last day to sign or veto bills deadline of September 30th.

Our readers may be interested in the latest developments concerning California’s sanctuary state laws, and their impact on California employers. Read on for a recent posting on our sister blog: BIG Immigration Law Blog.

Seyfarth Synopsis: The California Legislature, Governor Jerry Brown, and Attorney General Xavier Becerra have aggressively asserted the state’s rights under the U.S. Constitution and traditional police powers to protect all state residents, including undocumented immigrants, from the comparably aggressive immigration enforcement actions of the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and Justice. This foreseeable clash of federal supremacy versus states’ rights resulted in a recent request by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in U.S. v.  California for a preliminary injunction against three recent California statutes regulating and reporting on U.S.-California information sharing and the conditions in state detention facilities housing noncitizens (California Assembly Bill AB 103 and Senate Bill SB 54), and limiting the cooperation that California employers may provide to federal immigration enforcement agents (California assembly Bill AB 450). On July 4, 2018 Federal District Judge John A. Mendez issued an order refusing to enjoin AB 103 and SB 54, as well as certain employee-notice rights in AB 450, while granting a preliminary injunction on the rest of AB 450. Proceedings in U.S. v.  California will continue as federal and California authorities continue to clash over other issues such as California’s Evidence-Code ban on disclosure of immigration status in state court proceedings (Senate Bill 785) and federal refusal to provide California with law enforcement grant funding because of its status as a “Sanctuary State.”

The familiar lines were drawn. Combatants clashed in a war of words, competing governance philosophies, conflicting laws, and judicial challenges – all in an age-old constitutional battle of federal power versus states’ rights.

This time around, however, the roles were reversed. Version 2018 is unlike the 1960s when extreme-right southern conservatives, claiming to champion states’ rights, defied but ultimately failed to stop federal efforts to protect civil rights. This time, the state of California passed three statutes under its police powers with the avowed purpose of promoting public safety and protecting undocumented state residents against a determined army of newly-unshackled federal immigration enforcement officers. And this time, the state mostly won.

By enacting three new California laws – Assembly Bills, AB 103 and AB 450, and Senate Bill (SB) 54 – state legislators responded to aggressive federal immigration enforcement activities in the Golden State that they viewed as serious threats to community policing, public safety, and the state’s sizzling, low-unemployment economy.

AB 103 – effective June 27, 2017 – added California Government Code § 12532, directing the state Attorney General to conduct a review and report on county, local, or private locked detention facilities housing noncitizens within the state for civil violations of federal immigration laws. The AG must review and issue a report to the California legislature, Governor and the public by March 1, 2019, and must address conditions of confinement at each facility, due process and care provided to detainees, and the circumstances leading to their apprehension and placement in the facility. To permit this review, AB 103 mandates that the AG be provided with access to each facility, detainees, officials, personnel, and records.

AB 450 – effective January 1, 2018 – the “Immigrant Worker Protection Act” (IWPA), as I wrote in an earlier blog post, “AB 450: California’s Law of Unintended Immigration Consequences” – prohibits California employers (on pain of civil fines) from voluntarily cooperating with federal immigration enforcement agents at the worksite unless cooperation is required by federal immigration law.  Specifically, IWPA prohibits California-based employers from:

  • voluntarily granting immigration enforcement agents access to any non-public areas of a worksite unless the agents present a judicial warrant.
  • voluntarily allowing immigration enforcement agents to access, review, or obtain any employee records unless the agents present a Notice of Inspection (NOI) of Forms I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verifications), an administrative or judicial subpoena, or a judicial warrant requiring compliance.
  • reverifying the employment eligibility of any current employee unless required by federal law.

IWPA also requires employers served with an I-9 NOI to give notice in writing within 72 hours to each current employee at the worksite and any authorized labor union that an I-9 inspection has begun, and notify any affected employee or authorized union rep – again within 72 hours of receiving any subsequent I-9 related federal notices –  “of the obligations of the employer and the affected employee arising from the results of the inspection of I-9 . . . forms or other employment records” (the AB 450 Notice requirements).

Senate Bill (SB) 54 – enacted October 05, 2017, and popularly titled the “California Sanctuary State Law”  – is a comprehensive statute which, among other things, prohibits California law enforcement authorities from sharing a wide variety of information on persons in state custody, including the release date of a detained noncitizen, and from transferring the individual to federal authorities unless he or she has been convicted of certain crimes or unless authorized by a judicial warrant or a judicial probable-cause determination.

Predictably, U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III threw down the gauntlet. The U.S. Justice Department filed a federal complaint in the Eastern District of California, requested a preliminary injunction, offered supporting declarations of senior officials in the State Department (Carl S. Risch) and DHS (Thomas D. Homan, Todd Hoffman and Rodney S. Scott). DOJ attorneys argued to Federal Judge John A. Mendez that these new California laws unconstitutionally usurp federal supremacy and sovereignty over control of the nation’s borders. Not shrinking from the fight, California AG Becerra filed a formal opposition to the request for preliminary injunction, a motion to dismiss the suit, and a legal brief.

Ironically, on Independence Day, Judge Mendez issued his momentous, carefully considered decision (a 60-page whopper), ruling that:

  • No preliminary injunction would issue against AB 103, SB 54, and the AB 450 Notice requirements, because they do not trench upon federal authority over immigration.
  • As for rest of AB 450, California authorities are preliminarily enjoined from:
    • fining employers or otherwise enforcing the bans on reverifying the employment eligibility of current employees,
    • voluntarily giving immigration enforcement agents access to nonpublic areas of the worksite, or
    • allowing them to access, review, or obtain employee records.

Sounding a note of somber exasperation, Judge Mendez implored the two political branches to act:

This Court has gone to great lengths to explain the legal grounds for its opinion. This Order hopefully will not be viewed through a political lens and this Court expresses no views on the soundness of the policies or statutes involved in this lawsuit. There is no place for politics in our judicial system and this one opinion will neither define nor solve the complicated immigration issues currently facing our Nation.

As noted in the Introduction to this Order, this case is about the proper application of constitutional principles to a specific factual situation. The Court reached its decision only after a careful and considered application of legal precedent. The Court did so without concern for any possible political consequences. It is a luxury, of course, that members of the other two branches of government do not share. But if there is going to be a long-term solution to the problems our country faces with respect to immigration policy. it can only come from our legislative and executive branches. It cannot and will not come from piecemeal opinions issued by the judicial branch. Accordingly, this Court joins the ever-growing chorus of Federal Judges in urging our elected officials to set aside the partisan and polarizing politics dominating the current immigration debate and work in a cooperative and bi-partisan fashion toward drafting and passing legislation that addresses this critical political issue. Our Nation deserves it. Our Constitution demands it.

U.S. v. California, Judge Mendez’s case, will continue to final judgment and injunctive orders.  Meantime, however, the federal/California square-off over immigration enforcement is only in the early rounds.  California has just shot additional volleys.

  • The latest California law, SB 785 – enacted with immediate effect on May 17, 2018 – prohibits the disclosure of an individual’s immigration status in open court, unless the party seeking to introduce it first persuades a judge in a private, in camera hearing, that such evidence is relevant and otherwise admissible. SB 785 was enacted in response to recent ICE arrests of immigrants in California courthouses, despite the March 2017 admonition of California Chief Justice, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, AG Sessions and then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, reminding them that:

Our courthouses serve as a vital forum for ensuring access to justice and protecting public safety. Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws.

  • In State of California, ex rel, Xavier Becerra v. Jefferson B.  Sessions, et al., the state filed a July 9, 2018 motion for summary judgment and legal brief, supported by 13 declarations, requesting a nationwide injunction against imposition of immigration enforcement conditions on federal grants for state and local law enforcement. In a contemporaneous press release, AG Becerra’s office asserted that:

[The U.S. Justice Department has] unlawfully withheld California’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant funds, which the State uses to support a task force that combats large-scale drug trafficking. California’s motion seeks to have the court enjoin the federal government’s unlawful conditions for all jurisdictions and compel the issuance of JAG funding to all eligible jurisdictions in the United States that have yet to receive it, as well as to restore COPS funding to California.

* * *

Although Congress apparently has no stomach for comprehensive immigration reform, despite the overwhelming popular view that reform is necessary, the judicial battle between the world’s first and fifth largest economies continues unabated.

Seyfarth Synopsis: Employers, take note—the long-awaited, new FEHA regulations related to national origin are about to take effect! Come July 1, 2018, new regulations on national origin under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act reflect a broad definition of national origin, codify existing case law, and intensify already strict regulations prohibiting harassment, discrimination, and retaliation based on national origin. The regulations will apply to applicants and employees, irrespective of documentation status. (The prior FEHC regulations on national origin addressed only English-only policies and incorporated defenses generally applicable to other protected bases.)

Your Eyes Can Deceive You. Don’t Trust Them.

Whether it’s the sandy dunes of Tatooine, or the lush forest of Endor, everyone has a national origin, even if it’s in a galaxy far, far away. The new regulations, which reflect currently existing California law, expansively define “national origin” to include an individual’s or ancestor’s actual or perceived:

  • physical, cultural, or linguistic characteristics associated with a national origin group,
  • marriage to or association with person of a national origin group,
  • tribal affiliation,
  • membership in or association with an organization identified with or seeking to promote the interest of a national origin group,
  • attendance or participation in schools, churches, temples, mosques, or other religious institutions generally used by persons of a national origin group, and
  • name associated with a national origin group.

Lest anyone try to find some wriggle room here, the regulations emphasize that “national origin groups include, but are not limited to, ethnic groups, geographic places of origin, and countries that are not presently in existence.” This might mean that your newly married cousin now claiming Wookiee heritage may actually be protected under the new regulations.

Do You Know Droidspeak?

Adhering to case law and statutory provisions, the new regulations address language restriction policies—including English-only policies—only under the very narrow circumstances already set forth in the FEHA:

  • the language restriction is justified by “business necessity,”
  • the language restriction is narrowly tailored, and
  • the employer has told employees about how and when the language restriction applies and what happens to employees who violate it.

The regulations, following the elements set forth in FEHA, define “business necessity” so narrowly that most employers may find it difficult to show. A language restriction is justified by business necessity only where:

  1. the restriction is necessary to the safe and efficient operation of the business,
  2. the restriction effectively fulfills the business purpose it is supposed to serve, and
  3. there is no alternative practice to the restriction that would accomplish the business purpose equally well with a lesser discriminatory impact.

The regulations state that a language restriction is not justified if it either promotes business convenience or is due in part to customer or co-worker preference. In any event, English-only restrictions cannot apply to employees’ non-work time (such as breaks, lunch, unpaid employer-sponsored events).

Discrimination against an employee’s accent may also be national origin discrimination, unless the accent interferes materially with the ability to perform the job in question.

Requiring English proficiency may also be discriminatory, absent “business necessity,” to which the regulations make these factors relevant:

  • the type of proficiency required,
  • the degree of proficiency required, and the nature, and
  • the job duties of the position.

The regulations allow that an employer may ask applicants or employees about their ability to speak, read, write, or understand any language (including non-English languages), but inquiries must be justified by a business necessity.

Aren’t You A Little Short For An X-Wing Pilot?

Giving hope to every Ewok who ever dreamed of being an X-Wing Pilot, the new regulations also clarify (as did prior FEHC selection criteria regulations) that height and weight requirements which create a disparate impact on the basis of national origin are forbidden.

Thus, come July 1, the new regulations clarify and forbid height and weight requirements that disproportionally exclude members of a particular national origin from a position, unless, of course, the requirements are job related and advance a business necessity. Even then, the challenged requirement could be unlawful if the requirement’s purpose could be more effectively achieved with less discriminatory measures.

It is also unlawful for an employer or other covered entity to seek, request, or refer applicant or employees based on national origin to assigned positions, facilities, or geographical areas of employment based on national origin, unless the employers have a “permissible defense” such as job relatedness or a bona fide occupational qualification.

These new regulations apply to undocumented applicants and employees just as they would with any other applicant. Any inquiry into an applicant or employee’s immigration status is unlawful unless there is clear and convincing evidence that the inquiry was needed to comply with federal immigration law.

Wait, I Know That Laugh …

Some FEHA regulations remain unchanged, such as those forbidding discrimination, harassment, and retaliation based upon national origin. The use of derogatory language or slurs based on national origin, and threatening to contact the immigration authorities about an individual’s immigration status also remain unlawful.

Protections for those holding driver’s licenses issued pursuant to Vehicle Code section 12801.9 also remain unchanged. That provision allows those who are not in the country legally to obtain a driver’s license if they can provide valid proof of identity and California residency. Any discrimination against one holding such a license may be considered national origin discrimination under FEHA.

And, in the same vein, employers must not require applicants or employees to present a driver’s license, unless the law requires the license or permits the employer’s requirement. Further, failing to apply the requirement uniformly or for a legitimate business purpose may amount to discrimination because of national origin.

Employers, Take The High Ground:

Employers seeking to limit FEHA exposure should heed these takeaways:

  • National origin is broadly defined to include not just an individual’s national origin, but the individual’s spouse or those with whom the individual is associated, and any person’s perceived national origin.
  • Identify and modify English-only polices to ensure they comply with the strict requirements set out in the regulations.
  • Implement recruitment techniques to safeguard against excluding potential applicants based upon national origin.
  • Ensure that employment is based on objective criteria, to minimize discrimination claims.
  • Remember that customer preference is not a justification for any discrimination based on national origin.

Workplace Solutions: Complying with the new regulations may seem like getting through the Kessel run in 12 parsecs, but with some preparation, and a little help from the Seyfarth force, compliance is certainly manageable. For more advice on how these regulations may affect your business, reach out to your favorite Seyfarth attorney.

Seyfarth Synopsis: Our mission here at Cal-Pecs is to illuminate how California employment law differs from the law that employers generally experience throughout America. In this back-to-basics piece, we provide some background and a brief catalog of stark contrasts.

In 1846, American settlers in Mexican Alta California staged the Bear Flag Revolt. They declared an independent republic, seeking freedom from Mexico. The rebels got lucky: the Mexican-American War soon intervened to dislodge the California territory from Mexican control. California, in 1850, became our thirty-first state.

The legacy of the Bear Flag Revolt continues: the state flag depicts a grizzly bear astride a patch of grass, above the logo “California Republic.” The underlying rebellious attitude has persisted as well. State politicians—especially since the 2016 election—have defiantly proclaimed California’s right to chart its own course on such vital matters as the environment, health care, immigration, and the right to use marijuana.

Perhaps nowhere is California’s independence more prominent than in the area of employment law. Federal labor law hit high tide in the 1930s, with the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act. The high tide returned in the 1960s—bringing us the Equal Pay Act, Title VII, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act—and returned yet again in the 1990s, bringing us the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

In the Golden State, meanwhile, the waves of employment regulation have risen ever higher, even when federal regulations have ebbed. The chart below spots differences between federal and California law in key areas of interest to employers that operate both in California and in the rest of America. In each case, of course, the California version favors employees, plaintiffs, and unions, while never favoring the employer.

Issue U.S. Law & State Law Generally California Law
What’s the minimum wage? $7.25, and higher in a few states $10.50, rising to $15 by July 2022
Must that wage be paid separately for all work, including unproductive tasks? No. Employers generally can comply with an average wage that meets the minimum. Yes. This result has surprised some employers that pay piece rate or commissions.
Must employers pay non-exempt piece-rate and commission workers separately for rest breaks? No Yes
Must employers pay non-exempt employees for required travel outside regular hours? No Yes
What overtime hours generally require premium pay? Only hours worked in excess of 40 per week. Weekly overtime plus daily overtime (over 8 hours per day) plus any time on seventh consecutive workday in a workweek.
Can employers use the “fluctuating workweek method” to compute overtime pay for salaried non-exempt employees? Yes. The regular rate is salary divided by all hours worked, with a 0.5 multiplier for overtime hours. No. The regular rate is deemed to be weekly salary divided by 40, and the overtime multiplier is 1.5, not 0.50.
Is doubletime ever required? No Yes, for hours exceeding 12 per day or 8 hours on a seventh consecutive workday.
Are there civil penalties for labor law violations? Often no, and penalties that do apply are relatively modest. Yes: for many Labor Code violations penalties are typically $100 per employee per pay period.
Can plaintiffs personally sue supervisors and co-workers under anti-harassment statutes? No Yes
Are middle managers, pharmacists, and nurses typically exempt from overtime rules? Yes No
Are employees entitled to reimbursement for routine business expenses? No Yes
What statuses do employment discrimination laws protect? Race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age over 40, disability (and sexual orientation by some judicial readings of Title VII) Those plus sexual orientation, gender identity, transgender status, political affiliation, marital status, breastfeeding, HIV status, requests for disability accommodation, etc.
Can employers invoke the “undue hardship defense” for religious accommodations simply by showing a cost > de minimis, and can they accommodate grooming and dress practices by transferring employees to a more remote location? Yes and yes. No and no. The “undue hardship” defense must meet the same tough test required in disability cases. And it is categorically unreasonable to accommodate a religious dress or grooming practice by moving the employee away from the public.
Can undocumented workers recover back pay on a claim for wrongful termination? No Yes; immigration status of a worker is irrelevant to any California remedy, except reinstatement of employment if prohibited by federal law.
Can an employer fire a worker who provided a false name, SSN or information about legal status to work? Yes No; an employer cannot discharge, discriminate, retaliate or take any adverse action against an employee who updates such information based on a lawful change.
What consequences do employers suffer for denying meal or rest breaks? Breaks that are too short are counted as working time. Failure to provide specified, timely breaks can result in up to two extra hours of premium pay per day.
Are “use it or lose it” vacation plans acceptable? Yes, generally. No
Is paid sick pay required? No Yes
Do farmworkers have the right to unionize, and do unions enjoy special protections with respect to their mass picketing? No and no. Yes and yes. California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act protects farmworkers, and its Moscone Act limits judicial power to prohibit mass picketing.

As this limited sample of comparisons might suggest, an employer used to doing business elsewhere can find California employment law a real bear. For more detailed treatment, see the 2017 edition of our Cal-Peculiarities: How California Employment Law is Different.

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.