The California legislature passed into law 931 pieces of legislation that have become effective, or will become effective, during the 2015 calendar year.  This article attempts to provide a brief overview of some of the key laws that could potentially impact business operations in California. Unless otherwise noted, the new laws became effective on January 1, 2015.

Mandatory Paid Sick Leave: AB 1522 requires that employers provide paid sick leave to California employees who work at least 30 days during a 12 month period, at an accrual rate of one hour per 30 hours worked.  Employers may limit use of paid sick leave to three days in each year and may implement a maximum accrual cap of 48 hours (six days).  The bill also imposes mandatory posting, notice and recordkeeping requirements. This law becomes effective on July 1, 2015.

Discrimination Against Volunteers and Unpaid Interns:  Existing law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees, or those seeking or training to be employees, based upon a person’s race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical or mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity or expression, age, sexual orientation, or military and veteran status. AB 1443 extends these protections to volunteers, unpaid interns, and persons seeking such positions.

Discrimination Based on Driver’s License: AB 1660 requires the DMV to issue a driver’s license to a person unable to submit proof that his or her presence in the U.S. is authorized under federal law, if all other requirements of licensure are satisfied.  By extension, AB 1660 prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants or employees based upon a license issued under these provisions, as such would constitute discrimination based on “national origin”.

Rest and Recovery Periods Must Be Paid:  SB 1360 clarifies and amends the heat illness regulations of Labor Code Section 226.7 applicable to outdoor places of employment by requiring that such recovery periods must be counted as time worked, and therefore paid.

Prohibition  Against Unfair Immigration-Related Practices:  Under existing law, an employer is prohibited from engaging in an “unfair immigration-related practice,” which includes discriminating, retaliating or taking any adverse action against an employee who engages in protected conduct, which includes making a bona fide complaint.  AB 2751 expands the definition of “unfair immigration-related practice” to include a threat to file or the filing of a false report or complaint with any state or federal agency. AB 2751 also prohibits discrimination or retaliation because an employee attempts to update personal information based on a name change, social security number, or federal employment authorization document. The bill imposes, among other remedies, a $10,000 penalty and potential suspension of the employer’s business license in the event of a violation.

Required Training Regarding Abusive Conduct:  AB 2053 expands existing anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training requirements to include coverage of “abusive conduct,” which is defined as workplace conduct engaged in “with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests, . . . [including] derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets, verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating, or the gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance.” 

Employer Liability for Contract Labor: With certain exceptions, AB 1897 imposes joint liability on employers with contractors for non-exempt laborers provided by the contractor for wages, wage-and-hour violations, and for failing to obtain valid workers’ compensation coverage for workers onsite. The law applies to employers that employ at least 25 people, at least six of which are nonexempt laborers that perform “regular and customary work . . . within or upon” the subject property.

Workplace Safety Reports:  Current law requires employers to immediately report by telephone all work-related serious injuries, illnesses or deaths to the Division of Occupational Safety and Health.  AB 326 allows employers to use email to deliver such reports.

Arbitration in Employment Agreements:  AB 802 and AB 2617 will have the effect of making it more difficult for employers to pursue employment claims in arbitration.  AB 802 expands Code of Civil Procedure 1281.96 by requiring arbitration companies to disclose on their website details about individual arbitration proceedings, including the award, the arbitrator handling the matter, and whether fees were awarded. Such disclosures will also allow potential claimants to locate plaintiff lawyers that have successfully brought claims against employers, the end result of which eliminates one of the benefits of arbitration – confidentiality. AB 2617 purports to prevent pre-dispute agreements that mandate arbitration. Although it is directed at agreements for goods and services, there is some ambiguity as to whether it will extend to employment agreements.  The US Supreme Court has been consistent in striking down state laws that purport to undermine mandatory arbitration provisions, but AB 2617 provides extra ammunition to plaintiff’s lawyers seeking to avoid arbitration clauses in employment agreements. AB 2617 only applies to contracts entered into, altered, modified, renewed or extended on or after January 1, 2015.

Multiple Water Efficiency Laws. Three laws enacted in 2015 create more stringent groundwater regulations. Among other things, SB 1168 creates local groundwater sustainability agencies to implement sustainable plans, monitoring, and enforcement of fast depleting water basins; AB 1319 allows agencies to classify individual groundwater basins according to the degree of depletion, and single out “probationary” basins; and AB 1739 imposes enforcement mechanisms under the oversight of the groundwater sustainability agency for the overdraft of water in probationary basins. In addition, AB 2014 prohibits HOAs from issuing fines or assessments against members for using low-water plants.

Instructional Wine Tasting Events:  AB 520 amends the provisions of Business and Professions Code Sections 25503.5 and 25503.57 relating, among other things, to the types of licensees that may provide instructional tasting events regarding wine or distilled spirited at “on-sale retail licensed premises,” establishes limits on what can be served at training sessions, imposes advertising restrictions for “on-sale” instructional tasting events and requires the removal of any unfinished alcoholic beverages that were supplied by the authorized licensee.

Pet Dogs in Outdoor Dining Areas:  While canines are increasingly seen at eating establishments, they are technically prohibited. AB 1965 authorizes pet dogs in outdoor dining areas if (a) approved by ownership, (b) dogs are controlled, (c) the outdoor dining area is not used for food preparation or the storage of utensils, (d) any food and water provided to the pet dogs are in  single-use disposable containers, (e) the outdoor dining area is maintained clean, and (f) the local government has not prohibited this activity.

Work-Related Claims Brought by Minors.  AB 2288 tolls the commencement of the statute of limitations for claims related to the employment of minors until the individual reaches 18 years of age. The law applies retroactively and provides for treble damages for discriminating or retaliating if an individual files a claim alleging a child labor violation.

Native American Day.  AB 1933 establishes the fourth Friday of September as a new state holiday – Native American Day.

The foregoing article was prepared by Richard Rasmussen and Pablo De Leon.  Anglin Flewelling Rasmussen Campbell & Trytten, LLP is a full-service law firm, providing legal counsel in most every area encountered by businesses operating in California.