Oct. 18, 2019 California Governor Gavin Newsom Signs Series of Noteworthy Employment Bills

Sunday, October 13, 2019, was the last day for Governor Gavin Newsom to approve or veto bills passed by the state Legislature. This year’s approved employment-related bills generated quite a buzz, and for good reason. This e-Update surveys some of the most significant changes that will impact California employers. Paul, Plevin will review these and other new laws at the firm’s annual Employment Law Update on Friday, November 1st at the Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa on Mission Bay. 

All new laws take effect January 1, 2020, except as indicated below.

Assembly Bill 5 - Employee versus Independent Contractor Status

Assembly Bill 5 codifies the “ABC” test adopted in Dynamex Operations v. Superior Court to determine whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor. The Dynamex decision was limited to only certain parts of the Labor Code, but Assembly Bill 5 extends the “ABC” test to virtually all California workers, excluding certain specifically enumerated industries and occupations (e.g. doctors, investment advisors, and hairdressers). In addition to various complete exceptions, this bill allows contracts of certain employers and industries to be governed by the more forgiving Borello multi-factor “economic realities” test, provided they meet a set of listed requirements. 

Assembly Bill 9 – More Time To Bring Discrimination and Harassment Claims

The Stop Harassment and Reporting Extension Act extends the period for an aggrieved employee to file a complaint alleging harassment, discrimination, or other unlawful practices with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) from one year to three years. The new limitations period does not apply to claims that have already lapsed if a complaint was not filed with the DFEH. 

Assembly Bill 51 – Prohibition on Mandatory Arbitration Agreements

This new law makes it a criminal misdemeanor for an employer to require an applicant or employee to enter into an agreement to arbitrate any claims under the Fair Employment and Housing Act or the California Labor Code. Arbitration agreements in place before January 1, 2020 will still be enforceable, as long as they are not extended or modified after that date. While the drafters of the bill attempted to avoid preemption by the Federal Arbitration Act, that question will likely be tested in the federal courts.

Assembly Bill 673 – Recovery of Civil Penalties

Employees will be able to obtain penalties as part of a Labor Commissioner hearing to recover unpaid wages. Under the current law, penalties must be paid to the State, but this new law allows workers to personally collect the penalty instead. An employee, however, still cannot “double dip”; he or she has to choose between recovering statutory penalties under these provisions or enforcing civil penalties under the Private Attorney General Act.

Assembly Bill 749 – “No Rehire” Provisions Prohibited in Settlement Agreements

This new law prohibits an agreement to settle an employment dispute from containing a provision that prohibits, prevents, or otherwise restricts the claimant from working for the employer against which the claimant filed a claim, or any affiliated entity. An employer and employee are permitted, however, to agree to end a current employment relationship or restrict the employee from obtaining future employment with the employer, if the employer made a good faith determination that the employee engaged in sexual harassment or sexual assault. Further, an employer is not required to continue to employ or rehire an employee if there is a legitimate, non-discriminatory or non-retaliatory reason for terminating or refusing to rehire the employee.

Assembly Bill 1554 – Flexible Spending Accounts

This new law requires employers to notify, in a prescribed manner, an employee who participates in a flexible spending account of any deadline to withdraw funds before the end of the plan year. "Flexible spending accounts" include but are not limited to: (1) dependent care flexible spending accounts; (2) health flexible spending accounts; and (3) adoption assistance flexible spending accounts. The required notice shall be provided by two different forms, one of which may be electronic.

Senate Bill 142 – Lactation Accommodations

This new law, largely based on the San Francisco ordinance for lactation accommodations passed in 2017, further expands protections for lactating workers by requiring employers to provide a lactation room, other than a bathroom, that shall be “in close proximity to the employee’s work area, shielded from view, and free from intrusion.” The lactation room must also (1) be safe, clean, and free from toxic or hazardous materials; (2) contain a surface to place a breast pump and personal items; (3) contain a place to sit; and (4) have electricity. Employers must also provide access to a sink with running water and a refrigerator in close proximity to the employee’s workspace. This law also requires employers to develop and implement a lactation accommodation policy, include it in employee handbooks, and provide it to new employees or when an employee raises parental leave. Employers with fewer than 50 employees may seek an exemption to these new requirements if they can demonstrate undue hardship.

Senate Bill 778 – Sexual Harassment Training Deadline Extension

This bill is emergency legislation, and therefore took effect immediately upon signing on August 30, 2019. This new law delays the deadline to complete supervisor and non-supervisor sexual harassment training under the FEHA from January 1, 2020 to January 1, 2021. However, new non-supervisory employees must still be provided at least one hour of sex harassment training within six months of hire, and new supervisory employees must be provided training within six months of the assumption of a supervisory position.

Senate Bill 83 – Expansion of Paid Family Leave

This new law extends the maximum duration of paid family leave (PFL) benefits from six weeks to eight weeks beginning July 1, 2020. Workers paying into the California State Disability Insurance (SDI) program may receive such PFL benefits to (1) care for a seriously ill child, spouse, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, or domestic partner, or (2) to bond with a minor child within one year of the birth or placement of the child through foster care or adoption. Additionally, this new law allows state government employees that pay into the Nonindustrial Disability Insurance (NDI) program to receive six weeks of paid leave. Further, this law requires the governor to propose by November further benefit increases—in terms of duration and amount—and job protections for individuals receiving PFL benefits.

Senate Bill 188 – Hairstyle Discrimination

The Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act, expands the definition of “race” under the FEHA and the Education Code to include both hair texture and protective hairstyles that are closely associated with race. The Act bans not only general employment discrimination, but also dress codes and grooming policies that prohibit “natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks,” which would have a disparate impact on black applicants and black employees. FEHA exceptions for bona fide occupational qualifications and security regulations still may apply. California is the first state to codify this rule.

This E-Update was authored by Mary Allain and Karyn Moore. For more information, please contact Ms. Allain, Ms. Moore or any other Paul, Plevin attorney by calling 619.237.5200