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New California (and one federal) Employment Laws for 2014

California employees can look forward to major new rights under legislation recently signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown. Let’s use this opportunity to review some of the new California Labor Code laws.

In this writer’s opinion, one of the most significant signatures of the new laws will be the nullification of a recent California Appeals Court decision requiring the exhaustion of administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit under the Labor Code (MacDonald case). After January 1, no administrative exhaustion (equivalent to getting a right to sue letter from the Department of Fair Employment and Housingwhich remains the law before filing under the Government Code) will be required to sue under the Labor Code. This is a crucial reformation, especially for claims under LC 1102.5, since the time limit to file an administrative claim is only 6 months. This effectively reduces the statute of limitations for Labor Code violations to 6 months from the general rule of 3 years.

The California minimum wage law will increase to $9 from $8 per hour on July 1-, 2014. This will be effective until January 1, 2016 when it rises to $10 per hour.

Paid Family Leave will be expanded on July 1 of 2014 to include temporary disability leave to include time off to care for a seriously ill grandparent, grandchild sibling or parent in law (SB 770).  Further, military and veteran status is not a protected category under the Fair Employment and Housing laws. The protection extends to a member or veteran of the armed forces, armed forces reserves, the national guard or the California National Guard. (AB 556). Family Leave Laws are administered by the State of California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Information concerning criminal convictions. An employer may not ask an applicant to disclose or utilized as a factor for deciding on employment, a conviction that has been judicially dismissed or ordered sealed. There are some exceptions.

Labor Code Section 244(a) is a new section prohibiting employers from reporting or threatening to report an employee, or potential employee’s immigration status or that of a family member, to a federal, state or local agency. The employee or applicant would have to have exercised certain rights in order to ban a retaliatory report.  (Warning for our fellow attorneys: Under the newly-revised Business and Professions Code Section 6103.7, an attorney is subject to discipline for reporting or threatening to report the suspected immigration status of a party or witness because that person has exercised his right to any employment right.)

Closely related to this retaliation protection, our old favorite anti-retaliation law, LC 1102.5, has been expanded to extend liability for adverse job actions to “any person acting on behalf of the employer”. Temp agencies (who we would argue are already liable as joint and several employers, or the on-site employer if the official employer is the temp agency). This term is not defined but may be considered to include  Further, in addition to the protections currently in place for reporting information to a government or law enforcement agency, the law will not prohibit retaliation against an employee for providing information to or testify before, any public body conducting an investigation, hearing or inquiry.

Governor Brown ended up not signing approximately 11 percent of the bills sent to him this year. Among the unsigned bills were proposals to grant an evidentiary privilege to union agents and members; expanded use of prevailing wage laws and expanded use of abatement proceedings on Cal-OSHA citations.

We mentioned in the title one  federal law. That would be the latest word from the National Labor Relations Board that employees may not be restricted from discussing work place pay and working conditions on social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram and Face Book. More about this in another blog.

As a major player in the protection of California employees from our Los Angeles employment attorney offices (but with ten offices around the state, including the Bay Area, San Diego, Inland Empire and Fresno), we do not envision a broad increase in the number of lawsuits or arbitration we will pursue in the coming year based on these violations. Many such violations may be more effectively handled by the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement,where it is in our potential clients’ best interest to proceed in court, we will counsel them accordingly.