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California Employer Laws- What’s in Store for 2021

5 min read
California employer laws

2020 is on its way out— and many are glad to see it go. But before we run headfirst into 2021, it’s important that businesses get familiar with all updated California employment laws. Heavily influenced by the events of the last year, new California laws regulate workplace COVID exposure, expand paid time off, support diversity, and more.

If legal troubles are the last thing your business needs in 2021, it’s time to get your ducks in a row before next year’s laws go into effect on January 1st. Read on to see the Assembly Bills (AB) and Senate Bills (SB) which may impact your business.

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COVID-19 California Employer Laws:

COVID-19 Workplace Exposure Notice and Reporting- AB 685

AB 685 requires employers to notify all employees of potential COVID-19 exposures as well as any COVID-related benefits, protections, and safety measures. Employers must also notify public health agencies of workplace outbreaks, which is to say, three or more laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 among employees who live in different households within a two-week period.

Further, this bill permits Cal-OSHA to shut down any workplace that “exposes workers to the risk of infection” of COVID-19. It also allows Cal-OSHA (California’s Occupational Safety and Health division) to issue citations for violations related to COVID-19 without the typical 15-day notice.

Supplemental COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave- AB 1867 

AB 1867 has three parts: paid sick leave for employees of companies with 500 or more workers; handwashing requirements for food facility employees, and small employer family leave mediation program.

This bill codifies Governor Newsom’s Executive Order N-51-20, which provided paid sick leave to food sector workers and employees of businesses with 500 more employees. Under AB 1867, any employees who leave their home to perform work are entitled to supplemental paid sick leave if they are prohibited from working due to transmission concerns. Leave is now available to healthcare employees who did not receive leave benefits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

Presumptions of Worker’s Compensation- SB 1159 

SB 1159 law updates workers compensation laws in California. It codifies Executive Order N-62-2 establishing a “rebuttable presumption of compensability” for employees who have contracted COVID-19 in the workplace. This means that employees can file a worker’s compensation claim for COVID-19 so long as specific criteria are met.

This bill applies to employees a) whose employers have five or more employees, b) who test positive within 14 days of a workday at a worksite that is not their home c) who test positive during a Cal-OSHA determined “outbreak” at their workplace.

Leave of Absence Laws in California:

Expansion of Family Care and Medical Leaves- SB 1383

SB 1383 expands the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) to include all employers with five or more employees. CFRA currently provides employees with 12 weeks of paid or unpaid job-protected leave. They can use this to care for a child, parent, or spouse with a serious health condition. They can also use this time to bond with a newborn or newly adopted child. SB1383 expands the scope of the law to include a) care for a grandparent, grandchild, sibling or domestic partner, b) the child of a domestic partner, c) covered active military duty of the employee’s spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent.

Employee Designation of Reason for Use of Sick Leave- AB 2017

California’s “Kin Care” law, AB 2017, gives employees the ability to use up to half of their employer-provided sick leave to care for an ill family member. This bill revises the The Healthy Workplace, Healthy Families Act by giving employees the “sole discretion” to determine the reason to use their available sick leave.

Expansion of Crime Victim Leave- AB 2992

AB 2992 prevents employers from discharging, discriminating, or retaliating against an employee who is a victim of crime or abuse. Employers cannot fire, retaliate against, or otherwise take action against a victim of violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Importantly, employees are entitled to leave “regardless of whether any person is arrested for, prosecuted for, or convicted of, committing the crime.”

Expansion of Paid Family Leave Benefits for Military Exigencies- AB 2399

AB 2399 expands earlier California employer laws establishing the disability insurance program known as Paid Family Leave (PFL). This program provides up to six weeks of partial wage-replacement benefits to employees who take time off to care for a family member or new child. PFL was modified in 2018 to provide time off to be with a family member being deployed on active duty. AB 2399 now expands the eligible “military member” to include a child, spouse, domestic partner, or parent of the employee.

California employer laws

Management and Diversity:

Pay Data Reporting- SB 973

SB 973 creates new employer reporting requirements. Private employers —those with 100 or more employees that to file an annual Employer Information Report (EEO-1) under federal law— must submit a pay data report to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) on or before March 31, 2021. The report will contain information about employees’ race, ethnicity and gender in various job categories.

Classification of Independent Contractors- AB 2257

AB 2257 amends AB-5, a bill that created the “ABC Test” to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. AB 2257 maintains the ABC test but introduces modifications to the current exceptions and adds new exceptions.

Unemployment Insurance California- AB 1731

AB 1731 makes it easier for employers to submit and be approved for work-sharing programs. Previously, employees were eligible for unemployment benefits if they worked less than their usual weekly hours as a result of the employer’s participation in a work-sharing plan. This plan needed approval from the Director of Employment Development. AB 1731 updates unemployment insurance California by allowing employers to submit their application electronically. Further, it requires that the approval will last one year unless otherwise specified.

Corporate Board Diversity- AB 979

This bill follows SB 836 which requires California-based businesses to have a certain number of women on their board. Similarly, AB 979 requires publicly held companies in California to have a minimum of one director from “underrepresented communities” on their board. “Underrepresented community” is defined as “Black, African American, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Native Hawaiian, or Alaska Native. It may also be a person who self-identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.”

California Consumer Privacy Act- AB 1281

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) gives California consumers rights over the personal data they provide to businesses. Given the broad language of the bill, this includes the employee data collected by employers.

Last year, AB 25 largely exempted employee data from the CCPA for one year, and now AB 1281 extends the exemption for another year (until the end of 2021). Employers must comply with the CCPA’s requirement to provide notice before collecting personal information from an applicant or employee. They must describe the category of information that they are collecting and the purposes for which it will be used.

Blast From the Past- Upcoming Deadlines:

Employers must also bear in mind that the deadline for mandatory sexual harassment training under SB 1343 and SB 778 is coming up. California employers with five or more employees must provide sexual harassment prevention training to all employees by January 1st.

Another reminder: on January 1, 2021, the state minimum wage goes up to $14 an hour for employers with 26 or more employees. For employers with fewer than 26 employees, it is $13 an hour. Local minimum wages may be higher.

Compliance with California Employer Laws:

Moving forward, employers must familiarize themselves with the notification requirements regarding potential exposures to COVID-19. They must also determine whether they must provide supplemental paid sick leave, and review and revise employee handbooks.

Compliance with California employer laws isn’t just to protect employees and create a safer working environment. It is also vital to avoid costly fines and legal fees. HR software can help employers stay compliant with paid and unpaid time off trackers and document managers. Factorial will make sure your business is equipped for 2021.

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