A California Employer’s Guide to a Happy New Year

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California employers will need to hit the ground running as soon as the New Year’s ball drops to ensure their compliance with a broad range of laws taking effect January 1, 2016. Rather than making the same old trite resolutions that will likely be forgotten before Super Bowl Sunday, Golden State employers will be much better off making a high-priority checklist of to-do’s requiring immediate action, including:

  • Reviewing pay rates by gender;
  • Updating pay statements;
  • Promoting workplace integrity; and
  • Preparing for increased leave requests.

A new XpertHR podcast features an in-depth discussion of the most notable laws affecting California employers in the coming year with Anthony Oncidi, who heads the labor and employment practice group at Proskauer Rose in Los Angeles. The following action items should be on every employer’s list.

Level the Paying Field Between Sexes

The new gender-based Fair Pay Act prohibits different pay rates between genders in the performance of substantially similar work. This new standard will be determined based on a combination of employees’ skills, effort and responsibility, as well as the degree of similarity of the respective genders’ working conditions.

The prohibition applies across all of an employer’s worksites, and is no longer confined to gender-pay disparities within a single worksite. While there are certain exemptions available under the new law, the onus is on the employer to demonstrate their applicability.

The Act also adds new anti-retaliation provisions to protect employees who complain of such violations, and prohibits employer retaliation and discrimination against individuals who request accommodation for a disability or religious belief, even if the employer does not grant the accommodation. An employer will also have to keep records of wages, wage rates, job classifications and other terms and conditions of employment for three years, which is one year more than the previous requirement.

Itemize Piece-Rate Workers’ Paystubs

Under a new law, piece-rate employees must be paid for rest and recovery periods and other nonproductive time that is not directly related to the activity for which they are paid, as this time will now be considered to be under an employer’s control.

Also, be sure to instruct those who prepare the payroll to separately itemize on piece-rate employees’ pay statements their total hours of compensable rest and recovery periods, as well as their pay rate and gross pay for those periods. These items must be included in addition to those currently required to be included on pay statements generally.

Pay Employees Fully, Properly to Avoid a Property Lien

Starting in 2016, any employer that fails to properly or fully pay employees’ wages will leave itself open to being served with a lien or levy against its property, in order to assist an employee in collecting any unpaid wages. In addition, an owner, director, officer or managing agent of an employer may be held personally liable for any wage and hour law violations.

Beware of Broader Whistleblowing, Retaliation Protections

Current retaliation protections have been expanded to include an employee who is a family member of a person who engages in a legally protected activity, or one who is perceived to have engaged in protected conduct or made a protected complaint, such as whistleblowing.

Prepare for a Possible Increase in Leave Requests

Don’t be surprised if the number of employees requesting school activities leave increases come January 1. That is because the Family School Partnership Act now includes the following situations as additional authorized reasons for taking school activities leave:

  • Child care provider emergencies;
  • School emergencies; and
  • Finding, enrolling and reenrolling a child in a school or with a child care provider.

These requests may very well start coming from stepparents, foster parents and legal guardians in addition to biological parents, as the Act has been expanded to permit such individuals to request this type of leave.

Bear in mind too that, due to revisions in California’s kin care law (to align it with the state’s paid sick leave law), an employee may also use sick leave for such purposes, and employers may not deny or retaliate against those who do.

And speaking of paid sick leave, note that the law has been amended to clarify worker coverage, alternative accrual and payment methods, and the grandfather clause that protects employers that already provided paid sick leave before January 1, 2015.

Restrict E-Verify Use

Use of the E-Verify system in a way that is not required by federal law will be considered an unlawful employment practice starting in 2016. Instruct employees who use the system to do so only for the purposes and in the manner authorized by federal law – to verify an employee’s or applicant’s authorization to work in the US.

Employers that use E-Verify will also be required to forward to an affected employee a tentative nonconfirmation, or any notifications received about the employee’s case from the Social Security Administration or Department of Homeland Security. A stiff penalty of $10,000 will apply each time an employer violates this law.

We would love to hear from California employers! Which new law concerns you the most? Let us know with a comment below.

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