New Laws Empower Employees with Equal Wages, Fair Contracts, and Lawful Hiring

Employees in California should have reasons to rejoice.  Our elected officials have enacted and our governor signed new bills last week on the last day of the legislative session.  One of these laws will extend the protections of the Fair Pay Act (California’s version of the federal government’s Equal Pay Act) to race and ethnicity (not just gender) and will inhibit employers from taking into consideration your past salary as a reason to compensate certain employees differently than other, similarly situated white/male employees. In addition, the new laws will ensure that employers are forbidden from requesting that applicants disclose past criminal records from when they were juveniles.  Further, another new law prohibits employers from using choice of law and forum clauses in employment or employee handbooks that would force employees to bring cases in other states.  The following is an in-depth analysis of the changes that are due to take effect January 1, 2017.

The extension to the Fair Pay Act which was passed last year and has helped decrease the pay gap between men and women, is now extended to two more protected classes – race and ethnicity.  Now, employers may not pay employees a lower wage rate than the one paid to employees of a different race or ethnicity for substantially similar type work.  In addition, as of January 1, 2017, employers may not ask job applicants about their juvenile court background.  Violations of this law will result in $200 penalties or actual damages (whichever greater) to the job applicants which may rise to $500 for any intentional violation plus costs.  This goes a step further than Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Another pertinent new law will prohibit employers from using choice of law or forum clauses (in contracts) in employment agreements that would require the employees to travel outside of our state if such employee resides and works in California.  Out attorneys have been waiting on this law for years since California is such an employee-friendly state.  This will allow the historically plaintiff-friendly California courts to enforce the laws our legislatures have crafted to protect California’s employees.  The exception here is for those who were represented by an attorney when they negotiated the terms of the employment agreements.  Violations of this law allow employees to bring a private right of action in court.  It also applies as of January 1, 2017.

Further, California’s Labor Code, which is already used to protect many workers’ rights (such as 1102.5 protections prohibiting retaliation against employees who report employer violations), has several new regulations to protect California’s workers from discrimination due to one’s immigration status.  Specifically, the new law prohibits employers from requesting more or different documentation than required under federal law or to turn down certain documents for lack of legitimacy.  This is already protected under California law if such action is done in retaliation.  Now, the law covers the hiring process to supplement the federal protection. Violations of this labor code may result in penalties of up to $10,000 per violation.  These laws are in addition to many other laws that took place this year.  See our dedicated blog page for recent laws effecting the workplace.

If you believe that you, or another employee, suffered an employment law matter related to discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or upon January 1, 2017 you notice any employer violations of the above laws, prompt action to preserve your rights is vital since the laws have strict deadlines to file a complaint.  Contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Stephen Danz & Associates for a free no obligation consultation to discuss your circumstances and legal options.