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California's New Employment Laws for 2016


As we welcome 2016, there are several new California laws that go into effect this year. Here is a summary of the laws that will have a significant impact on employment and businesses in California.

Leaves of Absence

1. School Activities Leave

SB 579 increases employees’ ability to take time off for school or child care related activities. Under previous law, an employer with at least 25 employees working at the same location could not discharge or discriminate against an employee “who is a parent, guardian, or grandparent having custody of a child in a licensed child day care facility or in kindergarten or grades 1 to 12, inclusive, for taking off up to 40 hours each year for the purpose of participating in school activities, subject to specified conditions.” This law changes “child day care provider” to “child care provider” instead, and it expands the “parent” definition to include a parent, guardian, stepparent, foster parent, or grandparent of, or someone who stands in loco parentis to, a child. In addition, the law grants protected time off for addressing a child care provider or school emergency, as well as finding, enrolling, or reenrolling a child in a school or with a child care provider.

2. National Guard Leave and Protections

AB 583 expands the definition of which employees are eligible for California’s military leave protections. It includes members of the National Guard of other states who are called to military service by their respective Governors or by the President of the United States, and who have left a position in private employment in California.

Discrimination and Retaliation Protections

1. Gender Wage Equality

SB 358 (Fair Pay Act) revises Labor Code section 1197.5, which prohibits an employer from paying an employee at wage rates less than the rates paid to employees of the opposite sex in the same establishment for equal work that requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility. The Fair Pay Act removes the requirements of “within the same establishment,” “equal work,” and “equal skill, effort, and responsibility.” It instead prohibits an employer from paying any employees less than those of the opposite sex for “substantially similar work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility.” It also requires the employer to affirmatively demonstrate that any difference in pay is based on specified factors, such as a reasonable seniority or merit system, rather than sex. The Fair Pay Act prohibits employers from discharging, or discriminating or retaliating against, any employee who tries to enforce the bill’s provisions. Accordingly, it authorizes such employees to seek civil action for their termination, discrimination, or retaliation. The law also states that employers cannot prohibit their employees from disclosing their own wages, discussing others’ wages, or asking about another employee’s wages.

2. Whistleblower and Anti-Retaliation Protections

AB 1509 extends the protections of existing provisions that prevent retaliation against whistleblowing. Existing law prohibits an employer from discharging, or discriminating or retaliating against, an employee for engaging in a protected whistleblowing activity, such as filing a complaint. If the employer discharges or discriminates against the employee anyway, the employee is entitled to reinstatement and reimbursement for lost wages, and the employer can be fined up to $10,000 for refusing to reinstate or restore the employee. AB 1509 applies these protections to an employee who is a family member of a whistleblowing employee.

3. Reasonable Accommodation and Retaliation

AB 987 prohibits an employer or other covered entity from retaliating or discriminating against an employee for requesting accommodation of his or her disability or religious beliefs, whether or not the request was granted. It specifies that the request is protected under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

4. State Contracts

SB 703 prohibits state agencies from entering into a contract of $100,000 or more with a contractor who discriminates in providing benefits based on an employee’s gender identity, such as not offering transgender employees the same health care coverage and benefits as other employees.

Wage and Hour

1. Piece-Rate Employees

AB 1513 creates new rules for employers with piece-rate employees. It requires those employees to be compensated for rest and recovery periods and other nonproductive time at or above specified minimum hourly rates, separately from any piece-rate compensation. It also creates the requirement that piece-rate employees’ pay stubs list specific information, such as the total hours of compensable rest and recovery periods.

2. Wage Garnishment Restrictions

SB 501, which will be effective on July 1, 2016, will reduce the prohibited amount of weekly disposable earnings that may be garnished pursuant to a withholding order. This modifies the Wage Garnishment Law which establishes the procedure for withholding an employee’s earnings for purposes of paying a debt.


1. Unlawful Use of E-Verify

AB 622 prohibits an employer from using the E-Verify system at a time or in a manner not required by a specified federal law to check the employment authorization status of an existing employee or an applicant who has not received an offer of employment. It also requires that employers who use E-Verify provide notification to the employee if the submitted information doesn’t match with federal records from the Social Security Administration or the Department of Homeland Security. A civil penalty of $10,000 is established for each time an employer violates these provisions.

2. Grocery Workers

AB 359 is concerned with grocery store workers when a grocery store changes ownership. It requires that eligible grocery workers from the first employer be hired by the successor employer for at least a 90-day transition period.

Workers’ Compensation

SB 623 provides that an injured worker cannot be excluded from receiving benefits based on his or her citizenship or immigration status. SB 542 requires that every medical provider network post on its website certain information, such as how to contact medical access assistants and how to obtain a copy of any notification regarding the medical provider network that is required to be given to an employee. SB 560 allows the Contractors’ State License Board’s enforcement division to enforce the obligation to secure the payment of valid and current workers’ compensation insurance. It also requires a licensing board to submit personal information about licensees to the Employment Development Department, which administers the unemployment compensation program.