2015 New Laws
||As the calendar flips to 2015, it's a good time to make sure you are up-to-date with the new laws, regulations, court cases, agency actions and local ordinances - many of which will impact California employers’ day-to-day operations and policies. These updates are organized by topic below to help you understand your responsibilities and learn how they will impact your business. They also have links to their respective Law Library pages to give you more details.
Also, check the Required Posters and Pamphlets page to make sure you are compliant.
Legislation and Regulations
Poster and Notice Updates
- California employers must post the new Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 Paid Sick Leave notice.
- California employers must post the new version of the state discrimination and harassment poster.
- Providing Wage Information Upon Hire - Employers must now provide information regarding California’s paid sick leave in the wage information notice that must be given to nonexempt employees upon hire.
- Requesting a Driver’s License - A general practice of requiring all new hires to show a driver's license can violate the law. Employers cannot discriminate against individuals who possess a driver’s license issued to persons unable to prove their presence in the United States is authorized under federal law.
- Minimum Salary for Exempt Employees - The California minimum wage rate increased on July 1, 2014, affecting the minimum salary for exempt employees.
- Verifying Social Security Numbers - The California Labor Code was amended to clarify that an employer cannot discriminate or retaliate against a person who updates his/her personal information based on a lawful change of name, Social Security number or federal employment authorization document.
- California Drivers’ Licenses - AB 60, which requires the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to issue a driver's license to undocumented persons who can prove identity, California residency and meet all other licensing requirements, is scheduled to take effect January 1, 2015. This card is not acceptable for Form I-9 verification.
- Use of California Driver’s License for I-9 Purposes - You cannot discriminate against someone holding or presenting an AB 60 license. However, the law recognizes that employers have the right and obligation to obtain documentation evidencing identity and authorization for employment.
- Liability for Employers That Contract for Labor - A sweeping new law increases liability for employers who contract for labor and services, such as those who use staffing agencies.
- Contracting for Foreign Workers - A new law provides restrictions for employers who use foreign labor contractors to obtain temporary foreign workers in California.
- Interns - California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) was amended to provide protections to unpaid interns and volunteers.
- Civil Penalties for Incorrectly Employing Minors - The Child Protection Act of 2014 imposes new sanctions against violators of state laws relating to the employment of minors.
- San Francisco Bay Area Commuter Benefits - Employers with 50 or more full-time employees in the San Francisco Bay Area are now required to offer commuter benefits to employees who walk or bike to work or use public transportation, car sharing or vanpools.
- Employee Notice Requirements - Employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) must provide a notice of health care coverage options to each employee, regardless of plan enrollment status (if applicable) or of part-time or full-time status.
- Discharge for Misconduct - The California Supreme Court ruled that an employee’s refusal to sign a disciplinary notice was not misconduct and did not disqualify the employee from UI benefits.
- High-Deductible Health Plans - An HSA participant must participate in a health plan with a minimum annual deductible of at least $1,300 per individual coverage and $2,600 for family coverage.
- COBRA Notice Requirements - The federal government updated model notices informing workers of their eligibility to continue health care coverage through COBRA
- FSA Contribution Limit and Carryovers - In 2014, employee salary reduction contributions to a health FSA were limited to $2,500 a year. This amount increases to $2,600 for 2015.
- Same-Sex Spouses and Domestic Partner Benefits - The IRS provided guidance on how qualified retirement plans should treat the marriages of same-sex couples following the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor.
- Financial Inducements - The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) targeted employer wellness programs that financially penalized employees for not participating.
- Minimum Wage - California’s minimum wage is $9 per hour, effective July 1, 2014.
- Meals and Lodging - The meal and lodging minimum wage credits increased on July 1, 2014 when the new minimum wage became effective.
- Itemized Wage Statement - California’s mandatory paid sick leave law requires employers to provide employees with information about the amount of paid sick leave available for use.
- Farm Labor Contractors A farm labor contractor must provide an itemized payroll statement to a current or former employee or grower within 21 calendar days, or be subject to a $750 fine recoverable by the employee or grower.
- Requirements for Farm Labor Contractors - The DLSE has greater ability to enforce farm labor contractor requirements and go after violators.
- Federal Domestic Service Rules - The Department of Labor (DOL) issued regulations extending Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) protections to most home care workers effective January 1, 2015. There is a delayed enforcement policy.
- Required Cell Phone Use - A California court of appeal ruled that an employer must reimburse a reasonable percentage of an employee’s cell-phone bill if the employee is required to use a personal cell phone to make work-related calls.
- Suitable Seating - The California Supreme Court will review questions related to the suitable seating requirement.
- Preparation Time - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that steelworkers who wear certain flame-retardant gear while performing their job are not entitled to compensation for the time they spend putting the gear on before their shift and removing the gear after their shift.
- Prohibiting Off-the-Clock Work - A California court dismissed an off-the-clock lawsuit in a case that highlights the benefits of a strongly drafted policy. This section also provides tips to consider when creating policies and practices prohibiting off-the-clock work.
- San José Minimum Wage - The minimum wage in San José increased from $10.15 to $10.30 per hour, effective January 1, 2015.
- San Francisco Minimum Wage - Effective January 1, 2015, the San Francisco minimum wage increased to $11.05 per hour. Also, voters passed Proposition J, which incrementally increases the minimum wage to an even higher rate of $15.00 an hour beginning in 2018.
- Oakland Minimum Wage - Oakland enacted a minimum wage ordinance of $12.25 an hour starting on March 2, 2015.
- Berkeley Minimum Wage - Berkeley enacted a minimum wage ordinance of $10 an hour effective October 1, 2014. It will increase again to $11.00 an hour on October 1, 2015 and $12.53 an hour on October 1, 2016.
- Richmond Minimum Wage - Richmond enacted a minimum wage ordinance of $9.60 an hour effective January 1, 2015, increasing up to $13.00 an hour in 2018.
- California’s Mandatory Paid Sick Leave Law - Effective in 2015, employers are required by law to provide a set amount of paid sick leave to employees working in California. The Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act creates an employer mandate to provide paid sick leave. The effective date for employers to begin providing the paid sick leave benefit is July 1, 2015. However, other requirements take effect on January 1, 2015.
- Kin Care - An employee can use the entire amount of paid sick leave accrued under the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act for care of a defined family member. However, the kin care law covers different family members than the mandatory paid sick leave law.
- Mandatory Paid Sick Leave for Victims - On July 1, 2015, employees who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking can begin accruing mandatory paid sick days under the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act.
- Eligibility for Volunteer Civil Service Leave - A new law for 2015 expands protections for civil service volunteers.
- Can An Employee Decline to Use FMLA Leave? - The Ninth Circuit held that an employee can decline to exercise his/her leave rights under the federal FMLA, even when the employee is taking time off for a reason that would qualify for FMLA purposes.
- Requiring a Medical Release to Return from Leave - A California Court of Appeal allowed an employer to conduct a post-reinstatement fitness-for-duty exam of a peace officer who exhibited erratic behavior at work and took FMLA leave for mental health issues.
- Partial Day Vacations for Exempt Employees - A California Court of Appeal reaffirmed the practice of partial-day deductions from exempt employee leave banks and also emphasized that the deduction can be made in any time increment, including increments of less than four hours, without jeopardizing the employee’s exempt status.
- Family Care (FMLA/CFRA) - The Department of Labor proposed changing the definition of “spouse” under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to look at the “place of celebration,” instead of the “place of residency.”
- National Origin - The definition of national origin discrimination for purposes of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) was expanded to prohibit discrimination on the basis of possessing a driver's license granted to persons unable to prove their presence in the United States is authorized under federal law.
- California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) - Harassment protections under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) were expanded to include volunteers and unpaid interns. Discrimination protections were expanded to included unpaid interns.
- Unfair Immigration-Related Practices - Legislation expands the definition of an unfair immigration-related practice to include threatening to file or filing a false report or complaint with any state or federal agency. Previous law extended the protection only to reports filed with the police.
- Driver’s License Protections - It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an individual because he/she holds or presents a driver's license granted to persons who are unable to prove their presence in the United States is authorized under federal law.
- Public Assistance and Discrimination Protections - A new law protects employees who are enrolled in public assistance programs, which is defined as meaning the Medi-Cal program.
- Veterans Reporting - Updated federal regulations implementing the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) became effective in 2014.
- VETS Forms - Beginning in 2015, the VETS-100 form is obsolete and a new form, the VETS-4212 Report, replaces the Vets-100A form.
- Individuals With Disabilities - Updated regulations implementing Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 became effective in 2014.
- Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblower Protection - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Sarbanes Oxley whistleblower protections should be extended to cover employees of private companies that contract or subcontract with public companies.
- Federal Immigration Protections - The Department of Justice settled several immigration-related discrimination cases. Many of these cases involved allegations of document abuse during the Form I-9 employment eligibility verification process.
- Use of False Documents - The California Supreme Court allowed an unauthorized worker who had been using a false Social Security number to proceed with his disability discrimination and retaliation lawsuit because state law provides job protections “regardless of immigration status.”
- Reasonable Accommodation and Religion - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a question-and-answer guide entitled “Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities.”
- California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) - The Fair Employment and Housing Council is considering proposed amendments to FEHA regulations relating to discrimination and harassment.
- Equal Pay Act (EPA) - The EEOC has settled several matters involving pay discrimination in recent years, and considers it a priority enforcement issue.
- Temporary Disabilities May Be Covered - In a federal case of first impression, the court ruled that “a sufficiently severe temporary disability” may be protected under the amendments to the ADAAA.
- Example of Appropriate Fitness-for-Duty Exam - A California Court of Appeal affirmed that an employer has the right to seek a fitness-for-duty exam when the exam is job related and consistent with business necessity. The employee showed increasingly frightening behavior.
- Avoiding Wrongful Termination Suits - Firing a long-term employee with a history of positive performance reviews can lead to lawsuits — especially if the decision to fire the employee is based on poorly documented performance issues.
- Voluntary Quit Defined - A California Court of Appeal held that for purposes of final pay, a retirement also constitutes a “quit” under the Labor Code.
- Recovery Period - Recent legislation clarified that recovery periods taken to prevent heat illness must be counted as hours worked and are paid periods for which there cannot be any deduction from wages.
- ‘Abusive Conduct’ Training - Anti-harassment training for supervisors must now include subject matter on prevention of “abusive conduct.”
- Industry-Specific Workplace Violence Requirements - The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) requires specified hospitals to establish workplace violence prevention plans to protect health care workers and other facility personnel from aggressive and violent behavior, effective January 1, 2016.
- Creating a Written HAZCOM Program - By June 1, 2015, all hazardous substance labels will be required to have pictograms, a signal word, hazard and precautionary statements, the product identifier and supplier identification.
- Cal/OSHA Requirements and Inspections - The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (federal OSHA) announced changes to recordkeeping and reporting criteria.
- Death Benefits - A new law relates to collection of death benefits for the death of persons in specified groups, including firefighters and peace officers.
- Workers’ Compensation Coverage Agreements Between Employers - A new law imposes liability for the failure to obtain workers’ compensation coverage on both the labor contractor and the contracting business.
- Predesignating a Personal Physician, Chiropractor or Acupuncturist - For injuries dated after January 1, 2013, any permanently partially disabled worker is entitled to a voucher of up to $6,000 unless the employer makes an offer of regular, modified or alternative work that meets specified criteria.
- Penalties - An injured employee of an uninsured employer is now provided access to an expedited hearing calendar for his or her workers’ compensation claims.
- Keeping Driver’s Licenses Private - Any driver’s license information obtained by an employer shall be treated as private and confidential. Driver’s license information cannot be disclosed to any unauthorized person or used for any purpose other than to establish identity and authorization to drive.
- Public Agencies and State Contracts - Contractors who bid on state contracts involving on-site construction-related services must certify that they will not ask individuals who are applying for on-site construction related jobs to disclose criminal history information at the time of the initial employment application.
- San Francisco’s Fair Chance Ordinance - San Francisco enacted the Fair Chance Ordinance (FCO), which “bans the box” and effectively eliminates the commonly used criminal history check box found on many employment applications, as well as imposing various other prohibitions and requirements related to obtaining and using criminal background information.
- Labor Relations in Private Employment - The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously concluded that President Obama’s “recess” appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) were invalid.
- Overly Broad Confidentiality Provisions - The NLRB held that an employer’s unwritten confidentiality rule prohibiting employees from discussing discipline issues violated the NLRA.
- Key NLRB Decisions - The NLRB issued rulings relating to employee discipline and use of social media.
- Representation and Election Process - Organizing of small groups of employees, known as “microunits,” within a larger facility or establishment has received the endorsement of the NLRB, and may make it easier for unions to get a foothold at some employer facilities.
- Joint Employer Issues - The NLRB has taken a recent interest in issues relating when a business will be considered a “joint employer” for purposes of liability under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
- Expanding Definition of “Employee - The NLRB ruled that scholarship athletes are “employees” under the NLRA, with collective bargaining rights