The annual parade of new legislation is set to hit the streets. This article attempts to provide a simple overview of some of the key California laws that are likely to impact businesses operating in California. Unless otherwise noted, the new laws become effective on January 1, 2014.

“Heat” Breaks (SB 435).   Employers must provide “recovery periods” to employees of not less than five minutes, along with substantial quantities of water, for the purpose of preventing heat illness. The law applies to all outdoor places of employment, and contains additional requirements for workers engaged in “landscaping” activities, among other outdoor work. SB 435 expands the scope of Labor Code § 226.7, which provides premium pay for missed meal and rest periods, to require premium pay for missed “recovery periods.” Regrettably, the law does not define the number of allowable “recovery periods” nor what would trigger an employee’s right to such a break, so it is almost certain to spawn litigation. The penalty for non-compliance is one hour of paid wages to the employee for each infraction. Employers should review Cal/OSHA provisions on “heat illness” which also contain additional requirements. For example, if temperatures exceed 85°, shade area sufficient to accommodate 25% of the workforce must be available. Cal/OSHA provisions can be found at www.dir.ca.gov/dosh.

Minimum Wage Hike (AB 10).    Starting July 1, 2014, minimum wage increases to $9 per hour. On January 1, 2016, minimum wage will increase to $10. As a result of the increase, the minimum salary requirement for “exempt” employees will be $37,440 as of July 1, 2014 and $41,600 as of January 1, 2016.

Minimum Wage Penalties (AB 442).   In addition to penalties for non-compliance with minimum wage laws that already exist under Labor Code § 1194.2, employers are now exposed to liquidated damages that include the repayment of the unpaid wages with interest if a field investigator determines a minimum wage violation exists.

Redefining Sexual Harassment (SB 292).   The statute was enacted in response to the 2011 case, Kelley v The Conoco Companies, in which sexually explicit comments and physically demeaning behavior toward a co-worker of the same sex were found not to constitute sexual harassment. Under SB 292, sexual harassment claims no longer need to be motivated by “sexual desire.”

Family Leave Expanded (SB 770).   The definition of “family” that gives rise to state benefits under the Paid Family Leave Act has been expanded to include siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, and parents-in-law. This relates to the ability of the employee to receive paid family leave benefits from the state, and does not impact current law relating to the circumstances in which employers must allow employees to take a leave of absence from work.

Undocumented Immigrant Protections.   California has enacted a group of laws (AB 263, AB 524 and SB 666) to provide additional protections to undocumented immigrants, who now comprise approximately 10% of California’s workforce, in the employment setting. Several provisions relate to “unfair immigration-related practices,” by generally prohibiting the reporting or threatening to report, a former, current or prospective worker’s suspected citizenship or immigration status, in response to such worker’s exercise of rights permitted under the California Labor Code. The protections extend to threats against the worker’s “family members,” which is broadly defined as those related by blood, adoption, marriage or domestic partnership. Penalties for such retaliatory conduct can include the suspension or revocation of a business license. If the alleged retaliation relates to the worker’s complaint of unpaid wages, violations can carry a $10,000 civil penalty in addition to other remedies. The law also clarifies that criminal penalties may exist for violations of these statutes, and clarifies that threatening to report a worker’s immigration status to gain something of value may constitute criminal extortion.

Military Vets Added as Protected Class (AB 556):    “Military and Veteran status” is added to the list of categories protected against discriminatory conduct under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Protection for Stalking Victims (SB 400).     Extends protections afforded to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence under Labor Code Sections 230 (including time off and non-retaliation) to employees who are known or suspected victims of stalking. Reasonable accommodations must also be provided to the stalking victim which may include the implementation of safety measures at the workplace.

Good Samaritan Laws (AB 633).    Under this addition to the Health & Safety Code, employers are precluded from adopting policies that prohibit employees from providing emergency medical services in the workplace, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The employer can adopt a policy that requires only trained employees to perform such services, but if none are available, any employee must be allowed to perform the emergency care.

Whistleblower Protections Expanded (SB 496).    Existing law protects employees who divulge a violation of state or federal statutes or regulations to a government or law enforcement agency. SB 496 expands that protection to include violations of local rules and regulations, and disclosures “to a person with authority over the employee or to another employee who has authority to investigate, discover or correct the violation.”

The federal government has been hampered by threatened shutdowns, infighting and convoluted legislation like the Affordable Care Act. California legislators have been undeterred, however, passing the significant and sweeping legislation that is described above which, while benefiting many, provides continuing challenges for those charged with managing their workforces in California.

The foregoing article was prepared by Richard Rasmussen and Scott Reigle. AFRCT, LLP is a full-service law firm, providing legal counsel in most every area encountered by businesses operating in California. If we can be of assistance to your business, please give one of our attorneys a call.