Seyfarth Synopsis: For certain employment-related contracts, California legislation effective January 1, 2019, will limit efforts to prevent disclosure of information relating to claims of unlawful acts and sexual harassment in the workplace. Read on for the devilish details.

California employers will soon have to heed a new crop of laws, born of the #MeToo movement, which will limit the terms permitted in employment-related contracts. What types of contracts, and what kinds of terms, you may ask? The answer, involving discussion of three separate bills adding three new California Code provisions, is a mouthful. But here goes.

  • Affected contracts include employment contracts, settlement agreements, and any other kind of contract that would try to prevent someone from testifying about alleged criminal conduct or sexual harassment.
  • The limitations include prohibiting waivers of the right to testify about alleged criminal conduct, including sexual harassment, as well as outlawing provisions that would prevent disclosure of information about sexual harassment and other illegal conduct in the workplace. The exact types of prohibitions depend on the kind of contract we are talking about.

The devil, of course, is in the details—and here the details are complex. Because prohibitions and permissions for certain kinds of contracts overlap somewhat, each case calls for careful analysis. The three bills in question, applying to agreements made on or after January 1, 2019, provide as follows:

  • AB 3109 (adding Civil Code § 1670.11) addresses contracts generally, and voids contractual provisions that would prevent a party from testifying about alleged criminal conduct or sexual harassment when the party has been compelled or requested to do so by lawful process.
  • SB 820 (adding Code of Civil Procedure § 1001) addresses agreements settling lawsuits or administrative complaints (as opposed to claims asserted in an internal complaint or demand letter), and voids contractual provisions that would prevent a party from disclosing “factual information” about sexual harassment or related retaliatory conduct.
  • SB 1300 (adding Gov’t Code § 12964.5) amends the FEHA to address agreements required as a condition of employment, and makes it an unlawful employment practice to require employees to release FEHA claims or to keep mum about “unlawful acts in the workplace,” unless the agreement is a negotiated resolution of a lawsuit, an agency complaint, or an internal complaint brought by an employee, in which case the employer can still get a release and require confidentiality concerning allegedly unlawful acts (to the extent the confidentiality provisions are not otherwise unlawful by means of the two new provisions discussed above).

Meanwhile, an amendment to the federal tax code, 26 U.S.C. §162(q), affects payments made or incurred with respect to sexual harassment settlements made after December 22, 2017. This federal development is beyond the scope of this post, but we mention it as a “heads up” item and refer you to our previous blog post here.

Contracts Generally

New Civil Code § 1670.11 is straightforward: the law frowns upon contracts by which employees agree not to testify about alleged criminal conduct or sexual harassment if they are officially requested to do so. This new statute seems a solution in search of a problem in that few employers have ever been so bold as to have employees agree to defy official requests to testify on these subject matters. But there it is.

Settlement Agreements

New Code of Civil Procedure § 1001, by contrast, can require significant changes in existing settlement practices. The law states that no provision in an agreement to settle a lawsuit or administrative complaint can prohibit the disclosure of “factual information” related to a claim filed in that proceeding if the information is “regarding” (1) sexual assault, (2) sexual harassment, (3) workplace harassment or discrimination based on sex, (4) failure to prevent sex discrimination or harassment in the workplace, or (5) retaliation for reporting sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace.

But are some non-disclosure provisions still permitted in settlement agreements? Yes.

  • The “amount paid” to resolve any claim lawsuit or administrative complaint may still be kept confidential. The new California law is silent on whether non-monetary settlement terms may also be kept confidential.
  • If the claimant in the settled lawsuit or administrative complaint requests confidentiality, the parties may agree to prevent the disclosure of “all facts” regarding alleged sexual harassment or discrimination (including court filings) that would lead to the discovery of the claimant’s identity.

NOTE: This carve-out does not apply where a government agency or public official is a party. In those instances, agreements cannot contain provisions keeping the claimant’s identity confidential.

  • If an employee has merely filed an internal complaint or sent a demand letter regarding sexual harassment, discrimination, or retaliation—and has not filed a lawsuit or administrative charge—a settlement agreement may still contain standard confidentiality provisions.

Agreements for Raises, Bonuses, or New or Continued Employment

New Government Code § 12964.5—which expressly does not apply to negotiated settlement agreements—provides:

  • It is an unlawful employment practice to require employees—either as a condition of employment or in exchange for a raise or bonus—to sign any of the following provisions:
    • A statement that the employee does not have any FEHA claim against the employer or other covered entity.
    • A release of the right to pursue a FEHA claim or to notify a governmental entity of the claim.
    • Any agreement that prohibits disclosure of “information about unlawful acts in the workplace, including, but not limited to, sexual harassment.”
    • This new FEHA provision carries more bite than the other new provisions, because a contract unlawful under the new FEHA provision is not only unenforceable but also can enable an aggrieved employee to sue for damages and other relief.

Workplace solution: Taken together, these new California laws should prompt a thorough review of employee agreements, release agreements, severance agreements, settlement agreements, contracts for continued employment, and even some Employee Handbook provisions. Some language may need to be added to certain agreements. Meanwhile, where the employer is settling a case that does not allege sexual harassment or assault or discrimination or retaliation, broader confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses remain as permissible as ever.

By Joshua M. HendersonIlana R. MoradyJames L. Curtis, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: CalOSHA published a news release TODAY, on a new emergency regulation for the electronic submission of CY 2017 Form 300A on Occupational Injuries and Illnesses.  CalOSHA submitted the rule yesterday, and will allow public comments until Tuesday, October 30th, with the intention of adopting it as final by November 5th!

According to CalOSHA, businesses operating in California that would be required to submit the CalOSHA Form 300A online include all establishments with 250 or more employees, unless specifically exempted by section 14300.2 of Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations, and establishments with 20 to 249 employees in the specific industries listed on page 8 of the emergency regulation’s proposed text (including common industries such as manufacturing, grocery stores, department stores, and warehousing and storage). The reporting deadline would be December 31, 2018. Beginning in 2019, the reporting deadline would be March 2 of the year after the calendar year covered by the form(s). So, for example, CY 2018 300A Forms would be submitted by March 2, 2019.

Cal/OSHA submitted the emergency regulation amending recordkeeping sections 14300.35 and 14300.41 of Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) on October 25.  Interested persons have until “October 30 to submit comments on the proposed emergency regulation.” OAL will have until November 5 to review and adopt or deny the proposed regulation.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.

Seyfarth Synopsis: The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing issues a yearly report describing its complaint and litigation trends. Below is the Reader’s Digest™ version.

The DFEH recently issued its 2017 Annual Report covering its fifth year in active litigation. In 2013, the California Legislature authorized the DFEH to file lawsuits under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), California’s stricter version of federal anti-discrimination law, as well as under the Unruh Civil Rights Act, the Disabled Persons Act, and the Ralph Civil Rights Act. Over the years, the DFEH’s operations have expanded to 220 fulltime employees, including attorneys, investigators, paralegals, and mediators, working from five California offices. (That is likely bigger than most California law firms and corporate legal departments.) The DFEH is presently the largest state civil rights agency in the country, with the power to launch state-wide representative actions for uncapped damages, attorney fees and costs, and injunctive relief, such as requiring new or revised policies and employee training.

Opening the Door to More Complaints. The DFEH over the last year launched a series of initiatives making it easier to file a civil rights complaint in California. The centerpiece of the effort was a new case filing and management system, called Cal Civil Rights System (CCRS). It allows employees and tenants to file a complaint and trigger a state-led investigation process using an online platform. Now individuals, from the comfort of their living rooms, can file a complaint, schedule appointments with investigators, check on case status, submit notes and documents, request right to sue letters, and even make public records requests.

Given this new ease of access, it is no surprise that DFEH filings increased during 2017. The DFEH received nearly 25,000 administrative complaints and inquiries. That is a 5% jump from 2016 and 2015 (which had roughly the same number) and substantially more than the 19,000 filed in 2014. About 90% of 2017 complaints were employment-related, 5% were housing matters, and the remainder fell under the Unruh, Ralph, and Disabled Persons Acts. Approximately 19,000 complaints resulted in formal charges filed with the DFEH. About one-half of complaints, or 12,872, requested an immediate right to sue, thereby bypassing any investigation or vetting by the DFEH before involving the courts.

What is striking about the DFEH’s report is the number of age discrimination and retaliation complaints made in 2017. Almost 20% of employment complaints in 2017 were for age discrimination (up from 11% in 2016). The largest portion of charges requesting a right-to-sue asserted age discrimination and retaliation—totaling 30% of the bases alleged. Disability was the next most commonly asserted basis in 2017; charges asserting disability exceeded the number of ancestry, religion, national origin, marital status, color, and sexual orientation discrimination charges combined.

Los Angeles County was the most litigious region in 2017. Employees and residents of the County of Angels filled out 30% of the DFEH’s total docket. Los Angeles County also ran the board in every type of complaint within the DFEH’s jurisdiction: 21% of employment, 22% of Ralph Act, 25% of Disabled Persons Act, and 30% of housing-related complaints. Orange and San Diego Counties were the second and third most active regions, with 8% and 6% of complaints, respectively. Sacramento County—not San Francisco, Santa Clara, or other more populated areas—has surprisingly been the source of the most DFEH complaints in Northern California, for three years running. Placer County’s 139 complaints in 2017 makes it the most charge-happy county in California by population size (it also won this top-honor in 2016).

The DFEH’s report provides some demographic information on the 2017 class of complainants. Over the last year, 52% of complainants disclosed their race and 35% stated their national origin when filing with the DFEH. The largest group of reporters identified as Caucasian (32.5%) and American (52%), which is consistent with 2016 figures. Individuals identifying as Hispanic or Latino brought 28% of charges in 2017, and those reporting as African American filed 23% (also tracking 2016 statistics). The DFEH has not to date elected to track other demographic data regarding complainants, such as age, sex, gender, marital status, household income, or religion.

Investigations and Settlement Revenues Spiked. The DFEH saw a 22% increase in investigations to 6,160 in 2017. Only 888 of these complaints settled, or 14%, which is a 7% drop from 2016. The remaining 5,000 plus charges, presumably, carried over into 2018, were withdrawn by the claimant, resolved through private negotiation, dismissed by the DFEH, or consolidated with an overlapping charge.

The DFEH had a fruitful year in terms of settlement revenues. It netted 12% more in 2017, bringing $12,984,367 to state coffers. Notably, this figure does not count monies generated through settling any of the 35 civil complaints filed by the DFEH in 2017. The DFEH’s most successful year in terms of pre-lawsuit settlement revenues appears to have been in 2013, with $13,433,922.

The data suggest that the cost to settle a complaint increases as the matter moves through the DFEH’s review process. Cases settled for $8,966 on average within the Enforcement Division, the DFEH’s investigative arm. Where the parties agreed to participate in the voluntary dispute resolution process, it took $14,122 on average to resolve it. Once the matter reached a pre-suit posture, in mandatory dispute resolution, it cost employers $42,513 on average to settle. And after the case was referred to the Legal Division and DFEH attorneys got involved, the average settlement figure was $42,860. Early resolution efforts evidently pay off.

The DFEH Hand-Picks Charges It Brings to Court. The DFEH filed 35 lawsuits in 2017. That is less than 1% of the 6,160 complaints investigated by the Enforcement Division. The DFEH then referred 140 of those charges, or 2%, to the DFEH’s attorneys in the Legal Division. Only one-quarter of these matters ended up in litigation.

Complaints referred to the Legal Division split almost evenly between housing and employment matters. Housing cases made up 40%, followed closely by employment complaints at 39%, and Unruh Act charges at 24%. No Disabled Persons Act claims were sent to legal in 2017. These figures are largely in line with the DFEH’s 2016 referrals, although notably there was a 21% increase in Unruh Act charges considered for litigation in 2017. In 2015, the DFEH gave much more priority to employment matters, making up 56% of charges passed on to its lawyers.

While age discrimination complaints picked up in 2017, the DFEH did not give such claims preference. None of its lawsuits asserted a claim for age discrimination. Disability discrimination continued to be the DFEH’s focus, as it was in 2015 and 2016. The theory was asserted in 11 employment, seven housing, and eight Unruh-related lawsuits–or roughly 74% of cases. Retaliation was a close second with 10 such civil actions. Sexual harassment complaints slightly increased year over year from four to six. Discrimination based on religion, ancestry, and national origin resulted in less than a handful of suits over the last three years.

Key Takeaways. Each year the DFEH’s focus appears to shift towards litigation. Referrals from its enforcement to legal divisions have crept up over the years from 98 in 2014 to 140 in 2017. Recent technological changes to the DFEH’s claims and investigation process have brought new efficiencies within the agency and freed staff to give more individual attention to cases.

As the DFEH steps up its game, so should employers. Well-written policies and regular trainings are two ways to curtail bad employee behavior, ensure compliance with the law, and stay off the DFEH’s radar altogether (not to mention boost morale and productivity in the workplace). Los Angeles and Sacramento employers, in particular, should make this a priority given the number of charges filed each year from their own backyards.

When a complaint is made with the DFEH, get counsel involved early. The 2017 data show that claims resolve for the least amount of dough at the investigation stage. Companies that drag their feet may end up dealing with the legal department, where the chance of getting sued rockets up from 1% to 25%. Given our recent experience, it would be no surprise if this figure increased further in 2018. We will report on that next Summer, as we did on the DFEH’s report last year. Seyfarth Shaw is ready to assist in the meantime on ways to proactively avoid complaints, timely address DFEH inquires, and defend charges and litigation.

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: Several bills of concern to California employers failed to receive the house of origin blessing and passage by the June 1 deadline, including this year’s attempts at PAGA reform, criminal history inquiries, and medical marijuana accommodations, while a boatload of others, most notably sexual harassment-related bills, sail on. The measures being passed to their opposite house for consideration are described below. 

Friday, June 1, marked the deadline for the state Senate and Assembly to pass bills introduced in their respective houses to the other house. Several employment-related bills (see links at the end of this post) failed to make it out of the house of origin. Many others, detailed below, continue their onward progress toward possible enactment into law. Most notable in number and publicity are the many pending sexual harassment bills. Here’s what is still alive, that we are watching:

Sexual Harassment

AB 1867 would require employers with 50 or more employees to retain records of all internal employee sexual harassment complaints for ten years, and would allow the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) to seek an order compelling non-compliant employers to do so. The bill, which would add Section 12950.5 to the Government Code, is scheduled for hearing in the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee on June 13.

SB 1300 would amend the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) to require a plaintiff who alleges the employer failed to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment to show: (1) the employer knew the conduct was unwelcome, (2) the conduct would meet the legal standard for harassment or discrimination if it increased in severity or became pervasive, and (3) the employer failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent the same or similar conduct from recurring.

This bill would also (a) prohibit an employer from requiring a release of claims or rights under FEHA, or a nondisclosure agreement or other agreement not to disclose unlawful acts in the workplace, in exchange for a raise or a bonus or as a condition of employment or continued employment, (b) require employers, with five or more employees, to provide two hours of sexual harassment prevention training, including bystander intervention training, within six months of hire and every two years thereafter to all California employees—not just supervisors, and (c) prohibit a prevailing defendant from being awarded fees and costs unless the court finds the action was frivolous, unreasonable, or totally without foundation when brought or that the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly became so.

SB 1343, which closely resembles SB 1300, would require employers with five or more employees—including temporary or seasonal employees—to provide at least two hours of sexual harassment training to all employees by 2020 and then once every two years thereafter. SB 1343 would also require the DFEH to develop (or obtain) and publish on its website a two-hour interactive online training course on prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. The bill would also require the DFEH to make the training course, as well as posters, and fact sheets, available in multiple languages (i.e., English, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Korean and any other language spoken by “a substantial number of non-English speaking people”).

AB 3080 would prohibit (1) a person from, as a condition of employment or as a condition of entering into a contractual agreement, prohibiting a job applicant, an employee, or independent contractor from disclosing to any person instances of sexual harassment suffered, witnessed, or discovered in the work place; (2) mandatory arbitration of sexual harassment claims; and (3) retaliation against an applicant or an employee who refuses to sign an arbitration agreement. Governor Brown vetoed AB 465 in 2015, which would have prohibited the use of mandatory arbitration agreements as a condition of employment. In his veto message, Governor Brown said he was “not prepared to take the far-reaching step proposed by this bill” and that this sort of blanket ban on mandatory arbitration “has been consistently struck down in other states as violating the Federal Arbitration Act” (FAA). Supporters of AB 3080 have attempted to “preemptively” address such arguments: Floor Analyses cite the ACLU as citing the California Supreme Court’s 2000 Armendariz decision, as well as Civil Code sections 1668 and 3513, to argue that the FAA does not exempt arbitration clauses from general principles that apply to all contracts, and that contracts attempting to exempt people from fraud or illegal activity are unenforceable and against public policy.

AB 3081 would: (1) extend Labor Code prohibitions on discrimination against employees who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking to include employees who are victims of sexual harassment, as well as employees who take time off to assist a family member who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment or stalking; (2) create a rebuttable presumption of unlawful retaliation against an employee if any adverse job action occurs within 90 days of reporting sexual harassment, participating in an investigation, or similar acts; (3) increase the time an employee has to file a complaint with the DLSE for violation of Labor Code section 230 (provides protected time off for jury duty and victims) from one year to three years; (4) require an employer, at the time of hiring and regularly on an annual basis thereafter, to provide to each employee a written notice that includes prescribed information about sexual harassment; and (5) require an employer with 25 or more employees to provide sexual harassment prevention training to all nonsupervisory employees at the time of hire and once every two years thereafter. The bill would also require the Labor Commissioner to create a means for employees to report sexual harassment or assault that occurs in the workplace.

AB 3082 would require the state Department of Social Services (DSS) to develop a policy addressing sexual harassment of in-home supportive services (IHSS) providers and to provide the Legislature with a summary by September 30, 2019. AB 2872 would require the DSS to adopt a peer-to-peer training course for IHSS providers and to ensure that every authorized provider has received at least two hours of peer-to-peer training by December 31, 2019. Beginning January 1, 2020, the bill would require all new or returning IHSS providers to receive at least two hours of peer-to-peer training within their first year of employment.

SB 1038 would make an employee who intentionally retaliates against a person who has filed a complaint, testified, assisted in any proceeding, or opposed any prohibited practice, under FEHA, jointly and severally liable, regardless of whether the employer knew or should have known of that employee’s retaliatory conduct. Previous versions of this bill would have extended personal liability for retaliation, similarly to the liability that already exists for harassment.

AB 2770 would include as “privileged” communications for: (1) complaints of sexual harassment made without malice by an employee to an employer based upon credible evidence; (2) communications between the employer and “interested persons” made without malice regarding the complaint; and (3) non-malicious statements made to prospective employers as to whether a decision to not rehire would be based on a determination that the former employee had engaged in sexual harassment. The bill is scheduled for hearing in the Senate Committee on Judiciary on June 12.

AB 1870 would extend the time an employee has to file an administrative charge with the DFEH alleging an unlawful practice under the FEHA, including, but not limited to, allegations of a sexual harassment, from one year to three years from the alleged incident.

SB 820, the “Stand Together Against Non-Disclosure” (STAND) Act, would make void as a matter of law and public policy provisions in settlement agreements, entered into on or after January 1, 2019, that prevent the disclosure of factual information related to cases involving sexual assault, sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and failure to prevent sex-based harassment and discrimination. The bill would, however, allow such a confidentiality provision to be included upon the request of the claimant unless the opposing party is a government agency or public official; and would allow a provision requiring the monetary settlement payment be kept confidential. Senator Leyva thanked her colleagues when this bill passed the Senate on May 21: “SB 820 shreds the curtain of secrecy that has forced victims to remain silent and empowers them to speak their truth so that we can hopefully protect other victims moving forward.” SB 820 would build on AB 1682, signed into law in 2016, which prohibits confidentiality provisions in settlement agreements in cases involving child sexual abuse or sexual assault against an elderly or dependent adult.

AB 3109 would make void and unenforceable a provision in a contract or settlement agreement, entered into on or after January 1, 2019 that: either (1) waives a party’s right to testify regarding an alleged criminal conduct or sexual harassment by the other party to the contract or agreement in an administrative, legislative, or judicial proceeding; or (2) substantially restrains a party’s right to seek employment or reemployment in any lawful occupation or industry, unless the other party to the contract or agreement is the current or prior employer (except for public employers and a private employer that “so dominates the labor market” so as to effectively restrict the employee from being able to secure employment). The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Committee on Judiciary on June 17.

SB 224 would extend liability for claims of sexual harassment where a professional relationship exists between a complainant and an elected official, lobbyist, director, or producer. This bill (a two year bill introduced in February 2017) has been held at the Assembly desk since January 23, 2018. AB 2338 would require talent agencies to provide to employees and artists, and the Labor Commissioner to provide minors and their parents (prior to issuing the minor a work permit), training and materials on sexual harassment prevention, retaliation, nutrition, reporting resources, and eating disorders. This bill would authorize the Labor Commissioner to charge up to a $25 fee to train each minor, and to impose a $100 fine each time a talent agency fails to provide training, education, or fails to retain specified records. The bill would require a talent agency to request and retain a copy of the minor’s work permit prior to representing a minor.

AB 2079—the “Janitor Survivor Empowerment Act”—would: (1) prohibit the Division of Industrial Relations (DIR) from approving a janitorial service employer’s registration or a renewal that has not fully satisfied a final judgment for certain unlawful employment practices; (2) require the DIR to convene an advisory committee to develop requirements for qualified organizations and peer trainers that janitorial employers must use to provide sexual harassment prevention training; (3) require the DIR maintain a list of qualified organizations and qualified peer trainers and employers to use a qualified organization from the list; and (4) require employers, upon request, to provide an employee a copy of all training materials. AB 2079 builds upon AB 1978 (2016)—the Property Services Workers Protection Act, effective July 1, 2018—which established requirements to combat wage theft and sexual harassment for the janitorial industry.

AB 1761 would require hotel employers to: (1) provide employees with a free “panic button” to call for help when working alone in a guest room that the employee may use, and allow the employee to cease work, if the employee reasonably believes there is an ongoing crime, harassment, or other emergency happening in the employee’s presence; (2) post a notice on the back of each guestroom door informing guests of the panic buttons entitled, “The Law Protects Hotel Housekeepers and Other Employees from Sexual Assault and Harassment”; and (3) provide an employee subjected to an act of violence, sexual harassment or assault, upon request, with time off to seek assistance from law enforcement, legal or medical assistance, and/or reasonable accommodation. The bill would prohibit employers from taking action against any employee who exercises the protections afforded by this bill, and impose a $100 per day penalty, up to $1,000, for a violation of these proposed provisions.

Pay Equity

SB 1284, as presently drafted, is a less onerous version of last year’s effort to mandate annual reporting of pay data a la EEO-1. The bill would require, on or before September 30, 2019, and each year thereafter, that private employers with 100 or more employees submit a pay data report to the DIR. If enacted, the law would require employers to include in the report the following for each establishment, and a consolidated report for all establishments:

  1. The number of employees by race, ethnicity, and sex in the following categories: all levels of officials and managers, professionals, technicians, sales workers, administrative support workers, craft workers, operatives, laborers and helpers, and service workers; and
  2. The number of employees by race, ethnicity and sex whose earnings fall within each of the pay bands used by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupation Employment Statistics Survey, determined by each employee’s total earnings for a 12-month look-back period, including total hours worked by each employee for part-time/partial-year employment.

Employers that are required to submit the EEO-1 Report could instead submit that report to the DIR. The DIR would maintain the reports for 10 years and make the report available to the DFEH upon request. Non-compliant employers would be subject to a $500 civil penalty for the initial violation and $5,000 for each subsequent violation as well as citation by the Labor Commissioner. The bill would prohibit the DIR and DFEH from publicizing any individually identifiable information obtained through this process but authorize the DIR or the DFEH to develop and publicize aggregate reports based on the information received that are reasonably calculated to prevent association of any data with any business or person.

This year’s Fair Pay Act bill, AB 2282, attempts to clarify some ambiguities in Labor Code sections 432.3 and 1197.5 created by prior pay equity legislation, AB 1676 (2016) and AB 168 (2017). AB 2282 would clarify that “pay scale” means a “salary or hourly wage range,” that “reasonable request” by an employee for a position’s pay scale means “a request made after an applicant has completed an initial interview with the employer,” and that “applicant” or “applicant for employment” means an individual who is seeking employment with the employer and is currently not employed with that employer in any capacity or position. The bill provides that nothing in section 432.3 prohibits an employer from asking an applicant about his/her salary expectation, and that nothing in section 1197.5 should be interpreted to prohibit an employer from making a compensation decision based on a current employee’s existing salary as long as any wage differential resulting from that compensation decision is justified by one or more of the factors specified in the statute. AB 2282 is scheduled for hearing in the Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations on June 13.

Pay Statements: SB 1252 would amend Labor Code section 226 to grant employees the right “to receive” a copy of (not just inspect) their pay statements. This bill is scheduled for hearing on June 20 in the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment.

Port Drayage Carriers: SB 1402 would require the DLSE to create and post a list on its website of “bad actor” port drayage motor carriers, i.e., companies with any unsatisfied judgments or assessments, or any “order, decision, or award” finding illegal conduct as to various wage/hour issues, including independent contractor misclassification and derivative claims. This bill would extend joint and severable liability to those companies’ customers for future wage violations of the same nature by those drayage motor carriers. This bill is part of a very broad and multi-pronged attack on port drayage motor carriers serving the LA and Long Beach ports, mainly regarding alleged independent contractor misclassification of drivers.

Lactation Accommodations: AB 1976 would ensure employers’ already-required reasonable efforts to provide a room or location for lactation consists of providing something other than a toilet stall or bathroom (by deleting “toilet stall” and inserting “bathroom” in the statute). This bill is scheduled for hearing in the Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations on June 13. SB 937 would more substantively change existing lactation accommodation requirements, by requiring a lactation room to be safe, clean, and free of toxic or hazardous materials, contain a surface to place a breast pump and personal items, contain a place to sit, and have access to electricity. The bill would exempt employers with fewer than 50 employees that can show that the requirement would impose an undue hardship by causing significant expense or operational difficulty when considered in relation to the employer’s size, financial resources, or structure.  SB 937 would allow employers to designate a temporary lactation location, instead of providing a dedicated room, due to operational, financial, or space limitations. SB 937 would require employers to develop and implement a new lactation accommodation policy describing an employee’s right to a lactation accommodation, how to request an accommodation, the employer’s obligation to respond to the request, and the employee’s right to file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner. The bill would also require employers to maintain accommodation request records for three years and to allow the Labor Commissioner access to the records. The bill would require the DLSE to create and make available a model lactation policy and model lactation accommodation request form on the DLSE website, as well as lactation accommodation best practices. The bill would deem a denial of reasonable break time or adequate lactation space a failure to provide a rest period in accordance with Labor Code section 226.7.

Paid Family Leave: 2017 legislation effective 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 would remove the requirement that up to one week of vacation leave be applied to the waiting period, consistent with the removal of the seven-day waiting period for these benefits.  This bill is scheduled for hearing in the Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations on June 13.

Criminal History: SB 1412, the sole criminal history bill of four still alive, would allow employers to inquire into a job applicant’s particular conviction, regardless of whether that conviction has been judicially dismissed or sealed, under these specified conditions: (1) the employer is required by federal law, federal regulation, or state law to obtain information about the particular conviction, (2) the job applicant would carry or use a firearm as part of the employment, (3) the job applicant with that particular conviction would be ineligible to hold the position sought, or (4) the employer is prohibited from hiring an applicant who has that particular conviction.

Mediation Confidentiality: SB 954 would require that, except in the case of a class action, before engaging in a mediation or mediation consultation, an attorney representing a client participating in a mediation or a mediation consultation must provide the client with a written disclosure containing the mediation confidentiality restrictions provided in the Evidence Code. The bill would require the attorney to obtain a written acknowledgment signed by the client stating that the client has read and understands the confidentiality restrictions. However, an agreement prepared during a mediation would remain valid even if an attorney fails to comply with the disclosure requirement. The bill would also add to the mediation privilege of Evidence Code section 1122 any communication, document, or writing that is to be used in an attorney disciplinary proceeding to determine whether an attorney has complied with the above requirements, and does not disclose anything said or done or any admission made in the course of the mediation.

Immigration Status: AB 2732 would make it illegal—and subject to a $10,000 penalty—for an employer to knowingly destroy or withhold any real or purported passport, other immigration document, or government identification, of another person, in the course of committing trafficking, peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, a coercive labor practice, or to avoid any obligation imposed on the employer by the Labor Code. This bill would require an employer to post a workplace notice stating the rights of an employee to maintain custody of the employee’s own immigration documents, that the withholding of immigration documents by an employer is a crime, and “If your employer or anyone is controlling your movement, documents, or wages, or using direct or implied threats against you or your family, or both, you have the right to call local or federal authorities, or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.”. Further, the bill would require an employer to provide employees with the “Worker’s Bill of Rights,” to be developed by the DIR by July 1, 2019, which would inform employees of the same rights.  Employers would be required to have employees sign the “Worker’s Bill of Rights” and maintain the records for at least three years.

SB 785, which the Governor signed and went into effect immediately May 17, 2018 (to sunset on January 1, 2020), 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.

Bills that failed… for now:

The following bills did not survive the house of origin deadline or were struck down prior to the deadline. See our prior legislative update for summaries of these bills.

AB 2016 (PAGA); AB 2482 (Flexible Work Schedules); AB 2946 (DLSE Complaints extension); AB 2366 (Victims of Sexual Harassment); AB 1938 (Familial Status Inquiries); AB 2223 and AB 2613 (Wage Statements); AB 2069 (medical marijuana reasonable accommodation); AB 2841 (paid sick leave increase); AB 2680, SB 1298, AB 2647 (criminal history inquiries).

Stay tuned for our next Legislative update coming around the August 31st deadline for bills to pass both houses and make their way to the Governor’s office.

Seyfarth Synopsis: New statutory obligations for California employers in 2018 will include prohibitions on inquiries into applicants’ salary and conviction histories, expanding CFRA to employees of smaller employers, expansion of mandatory harassment training to include content on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, and new immigration-related restrictions and obligations.

California Governor Jerry Brown spent his last day to sign bills in this Legislative Session, October 15, approving and rejecting a number of employment-related bills. Below is our annual summary of those bills that will have—or would have had—the greatest impact on California employers. All approved bills become effective January 1, 2018, unless stated otherwise. Watch this blog for in-depth pieces on the bills below that will pose the most challenges for employers.

APPROVED

Salary Inquiry Ban. After two unsuccessful attempts, AB 168 received the Governor’s approval to make it unlawful in California law for employers, including state and local governments, to ask applicants about their prior salary, compensation, and benefits. The employer may consider prior salary information the applicant voluntarily and without prompting discloses, in setting pay. Don’t forget that Labor Code section 1197.5 already prohibits an employer from using an applicant’s salary history, by itself, to justify a pay disparity. AB 168 will also require employers to provide the position’s pay scale to a job applicant upon reasonable request. Read our in-depth piece on AB 168, and practical implications, here. Adds Section 432.3 to the Labor Code.

Meanwhile, yesterday the Governor vetoed the other pay equity bill we were watching, Gender Pay Gap Transparency Act, AB 1209. More on that bill below.

Ban-the-Box: Prior Conviction History of Applicants. With the approval of AB 1008, the Governor and California Legislature have created yet another protected class of individuals entitled to sue employers under the Fair Employment and Housing Act: applicants denied employment because of their conviction history, where the employer is unable to justify relying on that conviction history to deny employment. AB 1008 makes it unlawful for an employer to include questions seeking disclosure of an applicant’s criminal history on any employment application, inquire or consider the conviction history of an applicant before extending a conditional offer employment, or consider or distribute specified criminal history information in conducting a conviction history background check. If an employer intends to deny a position solely or in part because of the applicant’s prior conviction, the employer must make an individualized assessment of whether the applicant’s conviction history has a direct and adverse relationship with the duties of the job, consider certain topics, and allow the applicant to dispute the accuracy of the conviction history. Read our in-depth analysis, implications, and tips, of the “Scarlet Letter Act” here. Adds Section 12952 to the Government Code, and repeals Section 432.9 of the Labor Code.

New Parent Leave Act and Parental Leave DFEH Mediation Pilot Program. SB 63 extends CFRA’s protections to smaller employers (with at least 20 employees within 75 miles) and prohibits those employers from refusing to allow employees—with more than 12 months and at least 1,250 hours of service—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. An employer employing both parents who both are entitled to leave for the same child does need not give more than 12 weeks of leave total to the employees (which may be granted simultaneously if the employer chooses). Further, an employer can recover the costs of maintaining the health plan for employees that do not to return to work after their leave exhausts because of a reason other than a serious health condition or other circumstances beyond the employee’s control. Beginning January 1, 2018 and ending January 1, 2020, the DFEH, after receiving funding from the Legislature, will create a parental leave mediation pilot program under which an employer may request all parties to participate in mediation within 60 days of receiving a right-to-sue notice. This bill prohibits an employee from pursuing any civil action under these provisions (and tolls the statute of limitations) until the mediation is complete, meaning when either party elects not to participate, withdraws from mediation, or notifies the DFEH that further mediation would be fruitless. Adds Section 12945.6 to the Government Code.

Retaliation: Expanding The Labor Commissioner’s Authority. With the Governor’s October 3 approval of SB 306, the DLSE will be authorized to investigate an employer—with or without a complaint being filed—when, during a wage claim or other investigation, the Labor Commissioner suspects retaliation or discrimination. The bill will also allow the Labor Commissioner or an employee to seek injunctive relief (that the employee be reinstated pending resolution of the claim) upon a mere finding of “reasonable cause” that a violation of the law has occurred. That injunctive relief, however, would not prohibit an employer from disciplining or firing an employee for conduct that is unrelated to the retaliation claim. The bill also authorizes the Labor Commissioner to issue citations directing specific relief to persons determined to be responsible for violations and to create certain procedural requirements. Amends Section 98.7 and adds Sections 98.74, 1102.61, and 1102.62 to the Labor Code.

Immigration: Worksite Enforcement Actions. AB 450, the “Immigrant Worker Protection Act,” prohibits employers from allowing immigration enforcement agents to have access to non-public areas of a workplace, absent a judicial warrant, and prohibits immigration enforcement agents to access, review, or obtain employee records without a subpoena or court order, subject to a specified exception. This bill requires an employer to provide notice of an immigration agency’s inspection of I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms or other employment records within 72 hours of receiving the federal notice of inspection—using a template created by the Labor Commissioner—to current employees; requires an employer to provide affected employees (i.e., those who may lack work authorization or whose documents have deficiencies) a copy of the inspection notice, upon reasonable request; and requires employers to provide affected current employees, and their authorized representative, a copy of the immigration agency inspection results and written notice of the obligations of the employer and the affected employee arising from the action. The bill grants exclusive authority to the Labor Commissioner or Attorney General to enforce these provisions and requires that any penalty recovered be deposited in the Labor Enforcement and Compliance Fund. Penalties for failure to satisfy these prohibitions and for failure to provide the required notices are: $2,000 up to $5,000 for a first violation, and $5,000 up to $10,000 for each further violation. The Labor Commission may recover up to a $10,000 penalty for each instance an employer re-verifies the employment eligibility of a current employee at a time or in a manner not required by federal law. Stay tuned for a detailed analysis of AB 450 coming soon. Adds Sections 7285.1, 7285.2, and 7285.3 to the Government Code; adds Sections 90.2 and 1019.2 to the Labor Code.

Harassment Training: Gender Identity, Gender Expression, and Sexual Orientation. SB 396 requires employers with 50 or more employees to add items to already mandated biennial supervisory training to prevent sexual harassment. The new content must include practical examples to address harassment based on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. Employers must also post a DFEH-developed poster regarding transgender rights. The bill also makes changes to the Unemployment Insurance Code. Amends Sections 12950 and 12950.1 of the Government Code.

VETOED

Gender Pay Gap Transparency Act. AB 1209 would (as of July 2019) have required employers with at least 500 California employees to collect information on differences in pay between male and female exempt employees and between male and female Board members. The bill would have required employers to submit the information to the California Secretary of State by July 1, 2020, in a form consistent with Labor Code § 1197.5, and to provide an update to the Secretary of State every two years. The bill would have required the Secretary to publish the information on a public website if the Legislature provided it with sufficient funding. Yesterday the Governor vetoed the bill, stating—as many employers’ groups had pointed out—that the bill’s ambiguous wording made it unclear that the bill would “provide data that will meaningfully contribute to efforts to close the gender wage gap. Indeed, I am worried that this ambiguity could be exploited to encourage more litigation than pay equity.” He also cited the trust he has placed in his Pay Equity Task Force to provide guidance and recommendations to “assist companies around the state with assessing their current wage practices.” For more detail on implications of this bill had it passed, click through to our in-depth analysis on AB 1209.

Reproductive Health. The Governor vetoed AB 569 on October 15, stating that the FEHA “has long banned such [reproductive health-based] adverse actions, except for religious institutions. I believe those types of claims should remain within the jurisdiction of the [DFEH].” The bill would have added a provision to the Labor Code prohibiting an employer from taking adverse employment action against an employee or the employee’s dependents or family members for their reproductive health decisions, including the use of any drug, device, or medical service (e.g., birth control, abortions, or in vitro fertilization). An employer that violates this prohibition would have been subject to penalties under Labor Code § 98.6, as well as reinstatement, reimbursement of lost wages and interest, and other appropriate compensation or equitable relief. This bill would have prohibited employers from attempting to contract out of these requirements, by making null and void any express or implied agreement waiving these requirements. The bill would have required employers to include a notice of these employee rights and remedies in their handbooks.

Employee Request: Injury and Illness Prevention Program. AB 978 would have required an employer to provide a free copy of the company’s injury prevention program to an employee, or their representative, within 10 days of receiving a written request. A representative would have included a recognized or certified collective bargaining agent, attorney, health and safety professional, nonprofit organization, or immediate family member. AB 978 would have allowed an employer to take reasonable steps to verify the identity or the person making the written request and authorized an employer to assert impossibility of performance as an affirmative defense against allegations of violations of these provisions. Governor Brown found this bill to be “unnecessary and duplicative” of current regulatory proposals sitting with the Cal-OSHA Standards Board and noted that their advisory committee would be “better suited to determine how to properly implement requirements of this kind.”

BILLS THAT FAILED TO MAKE THE LEGISLATIVE CUT

Opportunity to Work Act. The notorious AB 5 would have required employers with 10 or more employees in California to offer additional hours of work to existing nonexempt employees before the employer could hire additional or temporary employees. This bill piggy-backed on the San Jose voter-approved Opportunity to Work Ordinance that, effective March 2017, would have required employers to offer part-time employees additional hours before hiring new or temporary employees. Read more on what AB 5 would have implemented herehere, and watch here.

Rest Breaks. AB 817 would have created 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 have allowed EMS employers to require their employees to monitor and respond to emergency response calls during rest or recovery periods without penalty, so long as the rest period is rescheduled.

Retail Employees: Holiday Overtime. AB 1173 would have established an employee-selected overtime exemption that would have allowed a “retail industry” employee to work up to 10 hours per day with no overtime pay during the holiday season (November through January). Overtime paid at time and one-half of the employee’s regular pay rate would have applied to over 40 hours worked in a workweek or 10 in a work day; double time would have applied to work over 12 hours per day and over eight hours on the fifth, sixth, or seventh day in a workweek. The bill would have required employees to submit a written request for the flexible work schedule for approval by the employer. The authors of this bill did not specifically define what “retail industry” would have meant.

Overtime Compensation: Executive, Administrative, or Professional Employees. AB 1565 would have exempted an executive, administrative, or professional employee from overtime compensation if the employee earns a monthly salary of $3,956 or at least twice the state minimum wage for full-time employment, whichever is greater. This bill would have had California follow President Obama’s FLSA regulations increasing the yearly salary exempt threshold from $23,660 to $47,476 for executive, administrative, and professional workers. (Those regulations have been enjoined by a federal court.)

Health Professional Interns: Minimum Wage. AB 387 would have broadened the definition of employers required to pay minimum wage to include anyone who employs any person engaged in supervised work experience (i.e., students working clinical hours) to satisfy the requirements for licensure, registration, or certification as an allied health professional. This bill would have applied only to a work experiences longer than 100 hours and would not have applied to employers with fewer than 25 allied health professionals or a primary care clinic.

Resident Apartment Manager Wages. AB 543 would have extended an exemption from Industrial Welfare Commission orders allowing employers, who do not charge rent to a resident apartment manager pursuant to a voluntary agreement, to apply up to one-half of the apartment’s fair market value (no value cap) to meet minimum wage obligations to the apartment manager. This was up from the two-thirds previously provided but capped at $564.81 per month for singles, $835.49 for couples.

Voluntary Veterans’ Preference Employment Policy Act. Both AB 353 and its almost identical twin AB 1477 hoped to revise FEHA’s existing Vietnam-Era veterans’ status provision but failed to make it out of both houses and out of the house of origin, respectively. The bills would have expanded a private employer’s authority to institute and uniformly grant a hiring preference for veterans regardless of where the veteran served. The bills stated that the hiring preference would not have violated FEHA or any local or state equal opportunity employment law or regulation. But the bill would have prohibited the use of a veterans’ preference policy for the purpose of discrimination on the basis of any protected classification.

Credit and Debit Card Gratuities. AB 1099 would have required an entity—defined as “an organization that uses online-enabled applications or platforms to connect workers with customers … including, but not limited to, a transportation network company” (e.g., Uber)—to accept tips by credit or debit cards if the entity allows customers to pay with credit or debit cards. The bill would have required that the tip be paid to the worker the next regular payday following the date the customer authorized the card payment. This bill made it out of the Assembly but the author canceled its hearing in the Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations so we may see this bill again next year.

Labor Organizations: Compulsory Fee Payments. AB 1174 would have established the “California Right to Work Act of 2017” to prohibit a requirement that employees pay into a labor union, charity, or other third party as a condition of employment or continuing employment. This bill would have made California part of the list of 28 other Right to Work states in the nation.

Employer Liability: Small Business and Microbusiness. AB 442 would have prohibited Cal OSHA from bringing any “nonserious violation” against small business or microbusiness employers without first notifying the employer of the violation and the right to cure within 30 days. This safe harbor would not have applied to any willful violation. The impact of this bill would have been far reaching—nearly 70% of California employers employ only a handful of employees.

Good Faith Defense: Employment Violations. SB 524 would have allowed an employer to raise an affirmative defense that, at the time of an alleged violation, the employer was acting in good faith when relying upon a valid published DLSE opinion letter or enforcement policy. This bill would not have applied to the DLSE’s prosecution of payment of unpaid wages.

PAGA: 2017’s Three Failed Efforts. 

AB 281 attempted 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, up from 33.

AB 1429 would have limited the violations an aggrieved employee can bring, required the employee to follow specific procedures prior to filing suit, limited civil penalties recoverable to $10,000 per claimant and excluded the recovery of filing fees, and required the superior court to review any penalties sought as part of a settlement agreement.

AB 1430 would have required 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 the proposed PAGA amendments here.

Workplace Solutions.

For more information on how these new Peculiarities might affect your company, read our in-depth focus blogs and contact your favorite Seyfarth attorney.

Seyfarth Synopsis: Governor Jerry Brown has till October 15 to approve bills the Legislature sent to his desk by its Friday, September 15, deadline, including bills that would require employers to ”show us the money” for certain employees and to make “mum be the word” for an applicant’s past conviction history.

The 2017 California Legislative Session kicked off on January 4, 2017, with lawmakers introducing over 2,200 bills. Of the many employment-related bills introduced, only a small handful made the Legislative cut. But some, addressed below, could have significant impacts on employers. Will the Governor sign or veto these possible new California peculiarities? We’ll know by his October 15 signing deadline. (Wondering what bills did not make the cut? We’ll include those in our post-October 15 wrap-up.)

Gender Pay Gap Transparency Act. AB 1209—called by some the “public shaming of California employers” bill—would require employers with at least 500 California employees to, beginning July 1, 2019, collect information on differences in pay between male and female exempt employees, by job classification and title, and male and female Board members. The bill would require employers submit the information to the California Secretary of State by July 1, 2020, in a form consistent with Labor Code § 1197.5 (California’s fair pay statute), and, to provide an update to the Secretary every two years. The bill would require the Secretary to publish the information on a public website if the Legislature provides it with sufficient funding. For more detail, click through to our in-depth analysis on AB 1209.

Salary Inquiry Ban. AB 168 would prohibit employers from relying on an applicant’s salary history when deciding whether to offer employment and what salary to offer, and from seeking an applicant’s salary history. The bill expressly authorizes employers, in setting pay, to consider salary history that an applicant discloses voluntarily and without prompting, but affirms Labor Code § 1197.5’s prohibition against using salary history by itself to justify a disparity in pay. The bill would require an employer to provide a job applicant with the position’s pay scale upon reasonable request. The bill would apply to all employers but not to salary information available to the public pursuant to the California Public Records Act or the Freedom of Information Act. This bill comes on the heels of last year’s fair pay legislation AB 1676 and Governor Brown’s veto of AB 1017 (last year’s bill to prohibit salary history inquiries), which veto (he explained) was an effort to give SB 358 (the Fair Pay Act) a chance to work. The new bill also follows in the footsteps of similar legislation in San Francisco, New York City, Philadelphia (stayed pending legal challenge), Delaware, Puerto Rico, Oregon and Massachusetts.

Prior Conviction History of Applicants. AB 1008, dubbed the “Scarlet Letter Act,” by Assembly Member Kevin McCarty on the Assembly Floor, would repeal existing Labor Code § 432.9 and add a section to the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which would prohibit an employer with five or more employees from (1) including on any employment application a question seeking disclosure of a job applicant’s conviction history, (2) inquiring into or considering an applicant’s conviction history until after extending a conditional offer of employment, and (3) while conducting a conviction history background check in connection with an employment application, considering, distributing, or disseminating information related to (a) certain arrests not followed by a conviction, (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.

As to an employer that intends to deny employment to a job applicant because of the applicant’s conviction history, this bill would also require the employer to:

  • Make an individualized assessment of whether the conviction history has a direct and adverse relationship with the specific duties of the job—considering the nature and gravity of the offense, the time passed since the offense and completion of the sentence, and the nature of the job held or sought.
  • Notify the applicant in writing of a preliminary decision to deny employment based on that individualized assessment, including disqualifying convictions forming the basis for rescission of the employment offer, a copy of the applicant’s conviction history report, and explanation of the applicant’s right to respond to the preliminary decision before it is final.
  • Allow the applicant specified periods of time to respond, then consider information submitted by the applicant before making a final decision, and then notify the applicant in writing of the final denial or disqualification, of any existing procedure the employer has for the applicant to challenge the decision, and of the right to file a complaint with the DFEH.

The bill’s provisions would not apply to positions with criminal justice agencies, state or local agencies required to conduct background checks, farm labor contractors, and employers required by state, federal, or local law to conduct background checks or restrict employment based on criminal history. The bill would also repeal (because this section would replace) a Labor Code provision prohibiting state or local agencies from asking an applicant for employment to disclose conviction history information.

Reproductive Health. AB 569 would add a provision to the Labor Code prohibiting an employer from taking adverse employment action against an employee or the employee’s dependents or family members for their reproductive health decisions, including the use of any drug, device, or medical service (e.g., birth control, abortions, or in vitro fertilization). An employer that violates this prohibition would be subject to penalties under Labor Code § 98.6, as well as reinstatement, reimbursement of lost wages and interest, and other appropriate compensation or equitable relief. This bill would prohibit employers from attempting to contract out of these requirements, by making null and void any express or implied agreement waiving these requirements. The bill would require employers to include a notice of these employee rights and remedies in its handbook.

This bill is the Legislature’s response to the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC, to provide employees of religiously affiliated institutions the same benefits and protections as other California employees, unless the employee is the functional equivalent of minister, subject to a “ministerial exception” as developed in First Amendment case law. The Legislature agrees with Justice Alito, in his concurring opinion, that the ministerial exception should apply only to an “employee who leads a religious organization, conducts worship services or important religious ceremonies or rituals, or serves as a messenger or teacher of its faith.” Supporters of this bill cite cases of employees being fired for getting pregnant while unmarried. The bill’s author, Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, stated on the Assembly floor that this bill “[is] an issue of basic health, privacy and worker rights.” The bill expressly states that it supplements, and does not limit, any right or remedy available under FEHA.

New Parent Leave Act and Parental Leave DFEH Mediation Pilot Program SB 63, the “New Parent Leave Act” would—through a new section added to the California Family Rights Act—extend CFRA’s protections to smaller employers (with at least 20 employees within 75 miles). The bill would prohibit those employers from refusing to allow employees with more than 12 months and at least 1,250 hours of service 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. The bill would provide that an employer employing both parents who both are entitled to leave for the same child need not give more than 12 weeks of leave total to the employees (which may be granted simultaneously if the employer chooses). Further, an employer would be able to recover the costs of maintaining the health plan for employees who decide not to return to work after their leave exhausts because of a reason other than a serious health condition or other circumstances beyond the employee’s control.

SB 63 would also require the DFEH, when it receives funding from the Legislature, to create a parental leave mediation pilot program under which an employer may request all parties to participate in mediation within 60 days of receiving a right-to-sue notice. The bill would prohibit an employee from pursuing any civil action under these provisions (and toll the statute of limitations) until the mediation is complete. The mediation is considered complete when either party elects not to participate or withdraws from mediation, or notifies the DFEH that further mediation would be fruitless.

Retaliation: Expanding The Labor Commissioner’s Authority. SB 306 would authorize the DLSE to investigate an employer, with or without a complaint being filed, when retaliation or discrimination is suspected during a wage claim or other investigation being conducted by the Labor Commissioner. If the Labor Commissioner finds reasonable cause to believe a violation has occurred, the Labor Commissioner may seek injunctive relief. The bill would also allow an employee bringing a retaliation claim to seek injunctive relief upon showing that reasonable cause exists to believe the employee has been subject to adverse action for bringing the claim. The bill would provide that the injunctive relief would not prohibit an employer from disciplining or firing an employee for conduct that is unrelated to the retaliation claim. The bill would also authorize the Labor Commissioner to issue citations directing specific relief to persons determined to be responsible for violations and to create certain procedural requirements for such.

Immigration: Worksite Enforcement Actions. AB 450, known as the “Immigrant Worker Protection Act,” would prohibit employers from allowing immigration enforcement agents to have access to non-public areas of a workplace, absent a judicial warrant, and would prohibit immigration enforcement agents to access, review, or obtain employee records without a subpoena or court order, subject to a specified exception. This bill would also:

  • Require an employer to provide current employees with notices of an immigration agency’s inspection of I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms or other employment records within 72 hours of receiving the federal notice of inspection—using a template created by the Labor Commissioner.
  • Require an employer to provide affected employees (meaning employees who may lack work authorization or whose documents have deficiencies) a copy of the Notice of Inspection of I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms, upon reasonable request.
  • Require employers to provide to affected current employees, and to an employee’s authorized representative, a copy of the immigration agency notice that provides for the inspection results and written notice of the obligations of the employer and the affected employee arising from the action.
  • Grant exclusive authority to the Labor Commissioner or Attorney General to enforce the provisions of this bill and require that any penalty recovered be deposited in the Labor Enforcement and Compliance Fund.
  • Prescribe penalties for failure to satisfy the bill’s prohibitions and for failure to provide the required notices of $2,000 up to $5,000 for a first violation, and $5,000 up to $10,000 for each further violation.
  • Prohibit an employer from re-verifying the employment eligibility of a current employee at a time or in a manner not required by federal law, and authorize the Labor Commission to recover up to a $10,000 penalty for each violation.

Employee Request: Injury and Illness Prevention Program. AB 978 would require an employer to provide a copy—free of charge—to an employee, or to the employee’s representative, of the company’s injury prevention program within 10 days of a written request. A representative would include a recognized or certified collective bargaining agent, an attorney, a health and safety professional, a nonprofit organization advocate, or an immediate family member. The bill would allow the employer to take reasonable steps to verify the identity of the person making the written request. The bill would authorize an employer to assert impossibility of performance as an affirmative defense in any complaint alleging a violation of these new provisions.

Stay Tuned … check back for a full breakdown of this year’s legislative bills coming after the Governor’s October 15th deadline.

Seyfarth Synopsis: Private employers can face competing obligations when it comes to responding to employees’  expressive conduct. Employee rights may collide with employer obligations to maintain a safe and harassment-free work environment, not to mention the employer’s interest in maintaining productivity and avoiding adverse publicity. Here are some guiding principles.

“How’s work?” A common question, whether at a party, catching up with an old friend, or just as small talk. It is also a common topic of online conversation. It would be nice if work-related remarks were always positive, agreeable and civil, but, of course, they are not. The reality is that employees sometimes say offensive things about work, their employer, their co-workers, or a co-worker’s cherished political hero or ideals.

And what of the employee who attends a political rally—either as a protester or counter-protester—or does not attend, but merely posts or tweets an incendiary opinion about the event?

What is an employer’s recourse when such communications cross the line? Where is the line?

As a general rule, unless the employee is using company-owned equipment or systems, employers cannot police their employees’ expression. Various California statutes protect employees’ rights to engage in lawful, off-duty conduct (Lab. Code §§ 96, 98.6) and political activity (Lab. Code §§ 1102, 1103), to say nothing of the California constitutional right to privacy, which applies in both the public and private sectors. Meanwhile, the federal National Labor Relations Act prohibits employers from chilling employee participation in concerted activity with respect to their terms and conditions of employment.

Generally, as long as controversial comments and ideas are lawfully expressed, do not implicate a protected class (such as race, religion, gender), do not name or implicate the employer, and remain out of the workplace, they are none of the employer’s business.

The trouble starts when a controversial comment is not lawfully expressed, implicates a protected class, implicates the employer, or has a deleterious effect in the workplace. Competing against the employee rights set out above are the employer’s duties to prevent and correct harassment in the workplace and to provide a safe workplace. Failure to do so can lead to hostile work environment or retaliation claims, regardless of whether the harassment comes from a supervisor or a co-worker.

Not all offensive remarks will be cause for concern: to get from “how’s work?” to a hostile work environment claim, an employee’s comments must relate to a protected status and be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter working conditions. But in todays’ highly charged political environment, many people look to their places of employment as the last bastion of civility and stability. Discussion of events, images, symbols, or social media memes concerning topics as varied as immigration, same-sex marriage, transgender rights, and the history of American slavery and its aftermath may, depending on the communication’s content and context, be freighted with racial or gender connotations.

For most people, perception is reality. Remarks or conduct that several years ago would not have raised an eyebrow may now lead to multiple disgruntled people in the HR office, seeking action. And while California employees are guaranteed privacy, the privacy right does not prevent an appropriate reaction from an employer in response to a public online posting, text message, or comment. As someone once said: “Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences.”

There is no magic bullet to making sure your employees play nice. But there are several steps you can take to ensure that they know what will and will not be tolerated. You can set employee expectations by implementing or reminding them of your anti-harassment and anti-retaliation policy, your code of conduct, your “zero tolerance” policy regarding violence, your social media policy, and your rules concerning use of company internet and other electronic communication systems. We recommend that employers articulate a strong business purpose to justify any occasions when they must intrude on an employee’s privacy, and never intrude more than is necessary to serve that business purpose.

Interpretation of the laws around employee workplace rights and the intersection with employer duties to comply with anti-harassment and OSHA laws are constantly evolving, particularly with the ever-increasing use of social media. To help stay current, don’t hesitate to contact your favorite Seyfarth attorney.

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: Pay equity and Ban The Box bills lead the list of bills approved to continue their quest (moving to the other house of the California Legislature) to become California law.

Friday, June 2, marked the last day for bills in the California Legislature to pass out of their house of origin—the Senate or Assembly—and continue the legislative process for a shot at becoming a new California Peculiarity. Pay equity and Ban The Box bills lead the list of bills approved to continue moving through the process. Meanwhile, some other feared bills, including the Opportunity to Work Act and retail holiday overtime, did not make the cut. But the substance of these bills, like zombies, may refuse to die and re-emerge through amendment to bills that are still alive. We’ll keep watching, and keep you updated, through the September 15 deadline for bills to pass from the Legislature to the Governor’s desk.

Still Alive:

Pay Equity: Salary Inquiry Ban. AB 168 would prohibit employers, including state and local governments (even the Legislature) from asking applicants about their salary history information, including compensation and benefits. The bill would also require private employers to provide the applicant with the position’s pay scale upon a reasonable request. Will the third time be the charm for this legislation? AB 168 is scheduled for hearing June 14 in the Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations.

Pay Equity: Gender Pay Gap Transparency Act. Attempting a California version of the revised EEO-1 report, AB 1209, effective July 1, 2020, would require employers with 250 or more employees to collect specified data on gender pay differentials, to publish the data on their websites, and to submit the data annually in reporting to the Secretary of State. The required data would include the difference between the mean salary and median salary of male exempt employees and female exempt employees, by job classification or title, and the difference between the mean compensation and median compensation of male board members and female board members. Committee analyses note that this bill was modeled after the recent measure passed in the United Kingdom that requires employers with 250 or more employees to publish their gender pay figures by April 2018.

Applicants: Prior Criminal History. On the heels of Los Angeles’s adoption of “Ban-the-Box,” this year’s attempt at even stronger, state-wide “Ban the Box” legislation marches on. AB 1008 would make it unlawful under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) for an employer to include on any employment application any question seeking disclosure of an applicant’s criminal history, to inquire into or consider the conviction history of an applicant before extending a conditional offer of employment, or to consider or distribute specified criminal history information in conducting a conviction history background check. The bill would require an employer that intends to deny a position solely or in part because of the applicant’s prior conviction to assess whether the applicant’s conviction history has a direct and adverse relationship with the specific job duties. Then, the employer must notify the applicant of the reasons for the decision, provide the applicant time to respond, and consider the response before making a final written employment decision. Exempted from the bill’s scope are criminal justice agencies, farm labor contractors, and positions for which the law requires a state or local agency to conduct a background check or precludes employment based on criminal history.

Voluntary Veterans’ Preference Employment Policy Act. AB 353 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. This preference would not violate the FEHA or any other local or state equal opportunity employment law or regulation (provided that the policy is not applied for the purpose of discrimination on the basis of any protected classification).

Credit and Debit Card Gratuities. AB 1099 would require entities that allow debit or credit card payment for services to also accept gratuities or tips via debit or credit card, and to pay those gratuities to the worker no later than the next regular payday. Prior to amendments, the bill would have applied to specified employers (lodging establishments, car washes, barber shops and beauty salons, massage parlors, restaurants, and on-demand service providers such as transportation network companies). As amended, rather than specifying the industries to which it applies, AB 1099 defines “entity” as “an organization that uses an online-enabled application or platform to connect workers with customers … including, but not limited to, a transportation network company.” The author’s stated reason for the bill is to make it easier and more reliable for workers in the gig economy to receive tips. The Assembly Appropriations Committee estimates the bill would cost approximately $300,000 in annual enforcement by the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”), an estimate that could earn this bill the Governor’s veto.

Overtime Compensation: Executive, Administrative, or Professional Employees. AB 1565 would exempt from overtime compensation an executive, administrative, or professional employee who 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. The bill states the Legislature does not intend to change the “duties test” of the overtime exemptions established in orders of the Industrial Welfare Commission for executive, administrative, or professional employees;  those provisions would continue to apply. The bill’s proponents argue that it would create “important protection for middle class workers who fall into the gap between the state’s overtime pay protections and what would have been higher overtime protections afforded” by federal Fair Labor Standards Act regulations adopted by President Obama’s US Department of Labor but enjoined through a court challenge. Opponents argue the bill unnecessarily accelerates salary increases for California exempt employees and applies to all employers regardless of size.

Immigration: Worksite Enforcement Actions. AB 450, the proposed “Immigrant Worker Protection Act,” would prohibit an employer from allowing federal immigration agency worksite enforcement authorities warrantless access to nonpublic areas of a place of labor and from releasing employee records to those federal authorities without a subpoena. This bill would also require an employer to notify the Labor Commissioner and employee representative of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification audit within 24 hours of receiving the inspection notice and provide a copy of the notice. The bill would prescribe penalties, recoverable by the Labor Commissioner against employers for failing to satisfy the bill’s requirements and prohibitions, of not less than $2,000-$5,000 for the first violation and $5,000-$10,000 for each subsequent violation.

Good Faith Defense: Employment Violations. SB 524 would permit an employer to raise an affirmative defense that, at the time of an alleged violation of statute or regulation, the employer was acting in good faith when the employer relied upon a valid published DLSE opinion letter or enforcement policy. Even though SB 524 failed to pass the Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations, reconsideration was granted and this bill is heading to the Assembly.

Retaliation: Expanding The Labor Commissioner’s Authority.  A former placeholder bill, as amended, SB 306 would authorize the Labor Commissioner, upon finding reasonable cause to believe an employer discharged or discriminated against an employee in violation of Labor Code section 98.7—before issuing a final determination—to seek temporary and permanent injunctive relief. This bill also would allow the Labor Commissioner to recover attorney’s fees and costs on a successful enforcement action, would authorize the Labor Commissioner to cite and penalize a person it determines violated Section 98.7, and would create procedural requirements for these processes.

Reproductive Health. AB 569 would add a provision to the Labor Code that would prohibit employers from taking any adverse employment action against an employee based on the employee’s or an employee dependent’s reproductive health decisions, methods, or use of a particular drug, device, or medical service (e.g., in vitro fertilization), including the timing of such. This bill would also prohibit employers from requiring employees to sign a code of conduct or similar document denying an employee the right to make such decisions. This bill would also require employers to include a notice of the employee rights and remedies in its handbook.  This bill is aimed at religiously affiliated institutions, noting (in language that would not be codified)  the Legislature’s agreement with Justice Alito in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC (2012) 565 U.S. 171, 199, that “the ministerial exception should apply only to an ‘employee who leads a religious organization, conducts worship services or important religious ceremonies or rituals, or serves as a messenger or teacher of its faith.’”

New Parent Leave Act. SB 63, as its predecessor (the vetoed SB 654 of 2016) attempted, would prohibit larger employers (having 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 as long as the employee has at least 1,250 hours of service with the employer during the previous 12-month period. This bill would also require the employer to maintain and pay for the employee’s coverage under a group health plan during this leave and allow—although not require—an employer to grant simultaneous leave to two employees entitled to leave for the same birth, adoption, or foster care placement.

Employee Request: Injury and Illness Prevention Program. AB 978 would require an employer to provide an employee or the employee’s representative a copy of the employer’s injury prevention program, free of charge, within 10 business days after the employer receives a written request. Under this bill, a recognized collective bargaining agent would automatically be treated as an authorized employee representative. The employer would be able to assert an impossibility of performance affirmative defense.

Bills Stuck in the House of Origin:

Opportunity to Work Act. More expansive than the City of San Jose’s voter-approved Opportunity to Work Ordinance, the much-publicized and employer-feared AB 5 would have required employers with 10 or more employees in California to offer additional hours of work to existing nonexempt employees in California before the employer could hire additional employees or temporary employees. AB 5’s hearing in Assembly Appropriations was postponed by the committee on May 3. Read more on what AB 5 would have implemented here, here, and watch here.

Rest Breaks. AB 817 would have carved 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. AB 817 stalled in the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment as the bill’s author, Assembly Member Flora, canceled the hearing.

Retail Employees: Holiday Overtime. AB 1173 would have established an overtime exemption that would have allowed an 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 have been paid at double time. This bill never even received a definition to fill in its “retail industry” blank, and was sent to but never heard in the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment.

Voluntary Veterans’ Preference Employment Policy Act. Feeling déjà vu? AB 1477, almost identical to AB 353, detailed above, would have allowed private employers to establish a veterans’ preference policy  and uniformly grant a hiring preference to veteran applicants, regardless of when the veteran served. This bill remained stagnant in the Assembly Committee on Veterans Affairs and Labor and Employment.

Health Professional Interns: Minimum Wage. AB 387 would have expanded 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. AB 387 was amended to only include work experience longer than 100 hours before Assembly Member Thurmond ordered it to the inactive file on June 1.

Resident Apartment Manager Wages. AB 543 would have authorized an employer that doesn’t charge a resident apartment manager monthly rent, to apply up to one-half of the fair market rental value, instead of the two-thirds provided by existing law, of the apartment to meet minimum wage obligations to the apartment manager, pursuant to a voluntary agreement. This bill’s hearing in the Assembly Committee of Labor and Employment was canceled at the author’s request.

Labor Organizations: Compulsory Fee Payments. AB 1174 would have prohibited 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. This bill failed to pass the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment.

Employer Liability: Small Business and Microbusiness. AB 442 would have prohibited Cal OSHA from bringing an enforcement action for any “nonserious violation” against any employers with small businesses or microbusinesses without first giving the employer written notice of the violation and providing 30 days to cure. The bill would have authorized Cal OSHA to assess a reasonable fee, up to $50, to cover its costs for enforcement. The bill’s hearing in the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment was canceled at the request of the author.

PAGA: Three Valiant, But Failed, Efforts. 

AB 281 attempted 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, up from 33.

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

AB 1430 would have required 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 the proposed PAGA amendments here.

All three PAGA reform attempts stalled in the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment.

Workplace Solutions

We will keep you apprised of these continuing Peculiarities, as well as any other significant legislative developments that occur as the end of the 2017 Legislative Session draws near. Contact your favorite Seyfarth attorney with any questions.