The landscape of employment law in California continues to evolve, with significant legislative updates taking effect in 2024 that will have a profound impact on both employers and employees. Staying ahead of these changes is critical, as they cover a broad spectrum of issues from reproductive loss leave to noncompete agreements and beyond.
In this blog post, we delve into the details of several key statutes, including California’s pioneering stance on reproductive loss leave, the tightening restrictions on noncompete agreements to promote worker mobility, and the introduction of automatic retaliation presumption to safeguard employees against unjust disciplinary actions. Moreover, we explore the expansion of paid sick leave, regulations affecting cannabis-related employment decisions, and enhanced measures for workplace violence prevention. Understanding these new laws is essential for navigating the complexities of California’s employment landscape in 2024.
California’s Reproductive Loss Leave Policy
Employers in California with a workforce of five or more are required to grant up to five days of protected leave to employees who have been with the company for at least 30 days and experience a “reproductive loss event.” This event includes scenarios like a failed adoption, failed surrogacy, miscarriage, stillbirth, or an unsuccessful attempt at assisted reproduction. The allocated leave can be taken non-consecutively but should typically be used within three months following the event. In cases where the employer doesn’t have a specific leave policy for such events, this leave may be unpaid. However, employees are permitted to utilize their accumulated leave balances, such as paid time off (PTO), sick leave, or vacation days, during this period. If an employee undergoes more than one reproductive loss within a year, they are entitled to a maximum of 20 days of leave. It’s imperative for employers to keep all information regarding an employee’s leave request confidential and to ensure there is no discrimination or retaliation as a result of the leave request. (SB 848)
In California, noncompete agreements are generally void, with a few exceptions, in line with the state’s longstanding policy that any contract preventing a person from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business is invalid. Despite this, some companies have still required California employees to sign such agreements, either misunderstanding the law’s extent or to discourage competitive moves. Recognizing that even unenforced noncompete agreements can hinder employee mobility, the state legislature has acted to reinforce this stance.
The legislation involves two key amendments. Firstly, AB 1076 modifies the existing law (Business & Professions Code section 16600) to emphasize the broad interpretation of the prohibition on noncompete agreements, clarifying that it isn’t limited to contracts where the restrained individual is a party. Secondly, it introduces section 16600.1, making it illegal to include a noncompete clause in employment contracts or to require employees to enter such agreements, except in rare cases. Employers who had California employees sign noncompete agreements post-January 1, 2022, must now inform them via email and postal delivery to their residence that these clauses are void, with non-compliance considered unfair competition.
SB 699 adds section 16600.5 to the Business & Professions Code, asserting that any noncompete agreement violating California law is unenforceable within the state, regardless of where or when it was signed. It specifies that employers who include invalid noncompete clauses in agreements, or attempt to enforce them, are committing a civil violation. Employees, former employees, or prospective employees can sue for actual damages and seek injunctive relief, with provisions for attorney’s fees and costs.
Automatic Retaliation Presumption
Under this new statute (SB 497), there will be an assumed presumption of retaliation if an employee faces disciplinary actions or termination within a 90-day period following a complaint related to specific Labor Code provisions or issues of unequal pay. While this presumption can be contested, it significantly strengthens the position of the employee in such cases. Additionally, the law introduces a civil penalty, imposing fines of up to $10,000 for each employee affected by each violation.
Expansion of Paid Sick Leave in California
The recently enacted SB 616, augments the required provision of paid sick leave (PSL) for California employees. The new mandate increases the minimum PSL from the previous three days (or 24 hours) to five days (equating to 40 hours). For employers utilizing an accrual system for PSL, the annual accrual cap must now be raised to at least 80 hours or 10 days, whichever is greater. In accordance with the existing law, nonexempt employees must be compensated for PSL at their regular rate of pay, rather than their base rate. It’s important to note that several cities in California have ordinances that demand more PSL than the state law; hence, employers, particularly in remote and hybrid work contexts, must ensure adherence to both state legislation and local ordinances relevant to their employees’ work locations.
Regulations on Cannabis-Related Employment Decisions
The 2022 amendment to California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) (SB 700) introduced a prohibition on discrimination by employers against job applicants and employees for cannabis use during non-working hours, coming into effect on January 1, 2024. As this date approaches, further expansions to the law have been made. Now, employers are also barred from inquiring about an applicant’s history of cannabis use and from considering any criminal history related to past cannabis use in their hiring decisions. This restriction applies unless the employer is explicitly allowed to ask about or use this information under certain conditions set forth in FEHA or other applicable state or federal laws.
Enhancements in Workplace Violence Prevention Measures
SB 553 represents a pioneering law in workplace violence prevention, applicable to a wide range of industries and nearly all employers operating in California. By July 1, 2024, the legislation mandates employers to establish and enforce written plans and training programs focused on mitigating workplace violence. The compliance with these new requirements will be monitored and enforced by Cal/OSHA through inspections, penalties, and mandatory corrective actions. Starting January 1, 2025, the law will also empower labor union representatives to obtain temporary restraining orders (TROs) for employees who are victims of workplace violence or credible threats of such violence.
Complementing this, SB 428, effective from January 1, 2025, authorizes employers to seek TROs and injunctions for employees who have experienced harassment. However, these restraining orders must respect and not infringe upon speech or activities that are legally protected.
The California Employment Law changes and additions may seem daunting, but with The PJF Group’s consulting expertise, we can help you navigate them and help you be compliant. Contact us today to discuss your needs.
Note: this article is not intended as legal advice. It is for informational purposes only. For the details surrounding each law, click the governmental link adjacent to each law.