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New Year, New Laws: Understanding the New California Employment Laws 2024

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As we usher in 2024, it’s crucial to stay informed about the new California employment laws that could significantly impact our daily lives and work environments. From an increase in the minimum wage to important changes regarding remote work, pay equity, and even state holidays—the landscape of California law is evolving. As California continues to lead in progressive legislation, keeping abreast of these changes is more than just a legal necessity; it’s a tool for empowerment and fairness in our rapidly changing world.

Expansion of Paid Sick Leave

In 2024, California sees a significant expansion in its paid sick leave law. Previously, employers were required to provide at least three days or 24 hours of paid sick leave per year. However, under the new law, this minimum rises to five days or 40 hours per year. Notably, this applies to all employees who work in California for the same employer for at least 30 days within a year.

The law aims to foster healthier workplaces by encouraging sick employees to stay home without fear of lost wages. This change underscores California’s commitment to worker rights and sets a progressive precedent for other states to follow. Employers should update their policies accordingly to ensure compliance with this expanded obligation.

CalWARN Notice Requirements

The California Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (CalWARN) Act currently mandates that businesses with 75 or more employees provide at least 60 days advance notice before mass layoffs, relocations, or terminations. However, in 2024, the notice requirement increases to 75 days. The law also revises a covered business to mean a single location with 75 or more workers. Importantly, employers are prohibited from using severance agreements to waive an employee’s right under this law.

Rights of Remote Workers

With many employers looking to have employees return to offices, California is providing some protections for workers. Beginning in 2024, an employer must provide a worker with at least 30 calendar days’ notice that they are requiring a remote or work-from-home worker to come work in the office. The notice must be provided to the employee in writing, and it must provide information about the employee’s right to remote work as a reasonable accommodation for a disability.

Wage Theft

Wage theft, the denial of wages or benefits rightfully owed to an employee, is a pervasive issue in the American workforce. To combat this, a new California law significantly increases penalties for employers found guilty of wage theft, including higher fines and potential jail time. It also expands the authority to receive, investigate, and hear employee complaints to public prosecutors, beyond recovery available under Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) lawsuits.

Achieving Pay Equity

Pay equity remains a significant issue in California, as it does nationwide. A new law aims to address this by enhancing transparency around pay data. The existing laws require employers to report pay data categorized by sex, race, and ethnicity. The new law expands on these requirements, mandating more comprehensive reporting of wage information, including job categories, wage ranges, and the number of employees within these ranges. This increased transparency is intended to illuminate any pay disparities, pressuring employers to take corrective action.

Increase in Minimum Wage

In 2024, California sees a significant increase in the minimum wage to $16.00 per hour. This rise is a result of a law passed in 2016 that ties the state’s minimum wage to inflation, ensuring that the lowest-paid workers are not left behind as the cost of living increases. This progressive adjustment not only provides an immediate pay raise for those on minimum wage but also sets a new standard for employers across the state. As a result, this wage increase helps to reduce income inequality and promotes economic fairness. It’s a significant step towards ensuring that all Californians can afford a decent standard of living.

Protections for Prior Marijuana Use

A new law expands protections for job applicants and employees who use marijuana. This law makes it unlawful for an employer to request or demand information about an applicant’s prior use of marijuana. Even if an employer receives information about an applicant’s prior use through a criminal history check, the employer may not use that information in their hiring decision.

Health Care Workers Get a Raise

Senate Bill 525 proposes a significant wage increase for all healthcare professionals employed at eligible healthcare institutions in California. Starting from June 1, 2024, the legislation mandates a rise in the minimum wage for healthcare workers to $21 per hour, which will further increase to $25 per hour from June 1, 2025. For those who receive a salary, their pay should not fall below 150 percent of this new healthcare worker minimum wage or 200% of the applicable minimum wage, whichever is greater. The law applies to all tasks performed within any qualifying healthcare facility, as well as any paid healthcare services carried out on behalf of any entity that owns, manages, or operates such a facility, regardless of where the work is done.

Paid Family Leave Benefits Expansion

The eligibility criteria for receiving Paid Family Leave benefits is set to expand, including employees taking leave to care for a “designated person.” The Legislature had previously broadened California’s leave laws last year to include leave for a “designated person.” This year, it seeks to extend this trend to the state’s Paid Family Leave insurance program. Specifically, AB 518 redefines a “family member,” enabling employees to qualify for wage replacement benefits when they take leave to care for a seriously ill “designated person.” This term refers to any individual related by blood or someone who shares a relationship equivalent to a family bond with the employee. Employees will specify their designated person when submitting a benefits claim.

Laid-Off Employees Rehire Rights

A new proposal aims to expand reemployment rights for employees in the hospitality and business service provider sectors who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. This includes those working in hotels, private clubs, event centers, airports, and building service providers. The current law mandates employers to offer job opportunities to eligible former employees as they arise, provided these employees were: (1) employed for at least six months before January 1, 2020, and (2) lost their jobs due to pandemic-related reasons.

SB 723 seeks to widen the scope of covered employees by modifying the first criterion to include any employee who has been employed for a minimum of six months at any time and was laid off on or after March 4, 2020. While the second criterion remains unchanged, SB 723 notably introduces a presumption that terminations due to a lack of business, workforce reduction, or other economic, nondisciplinary reasons are associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The onus is on the employer to establish otherwise by a preponderance of the evidence. Finally, SB 723 proposes to extend the expiry date of the current law by one year to December 31, 2025.

Reproductive Loss Leave

If enacted, a new law would grant employees a five-day leave for issues related to reproduction or adoption losses. It would be illegal for employers to deny an employee’s request for up to five days of leave following an event of reproductive loss, which could include miscarriage, unsuccessful assisted reproduction such as IVF, or a failed adoption. The employee would need to utilize this leave within three months of the event, and the total duration of leave should not surpass 20 days in a single year. While the reproductive loss leave may be unpaid, employees have the option to use their other leave balances like accrued and available paid sick leave.

Noncompete Agreements

Beginning January 1, 2024, a new law confirms it is illegal for employers to require employees to sign post-employment noncompete agreements or clauses.

The newly signed law explicitly forbids employers from incorporating post-employment noncompete clauses in employment contracts or obliging employees to agree to post-employment noncompete arrangements. By February 14, 2024, employers are required to give individualized written notices to all current and certain former employees that any post-employment noncompete clause in their employment agreement and/or any post-employment noncompete agreement with the employer is now void.

Policies and Procedures Required for Workplace Violence Protection

On September 30, 2023, California introduced the first-ever general industry workplace violence prevention safety standards in the U.S. These regulations apply to almost all employers in the state with minimal exceptions. As per the new Labor Code Section 6401.9, employers must devise and implement a workplace violence prevention plan by July 1, 2024.

The plan should include:

  • Assigning individuals responsible for the plan.
  • Developing procedures to actively involve employees in formulating and executing the plan.
  • Methods for coordinating the plan with other employers, if relevant.
  • Procedures for addressing and responding to reports of workplace violence without retaliation against the reporter.
  • Communication methods about workplace violence, such as reporting violent incidents, alerting employees about emergencies, and seeking help from the assigned staff or law enforcement.
  • Processes to identify, evaluate, and correct workplace violence hazards.
  • Post-incident response and investigation procedures.
  • Reviewing and revising the plan as necessary, which includes active involvement of employees.
  • Initial and annual training about the plan.

Employers are also required to maintain specific records for a minimum of five years and present them to Cal/OSHA upon request. These records include hazard identification, evaluation and correction records, training records, a log of every violent incident, and records of incident investigations.

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