New Mandates For California Businesses

Next summer California employers will have to provide paid sick leave to most employees under a bill (A.B. 1522) signed last week by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown.  The new law makes California the second state in the country, after Connecticut, to require paid days off for employees who are ill.  Although the law has a carve-out for employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement, as well as for employees who provide in-home supportive services for the elderly or disabled, conservative estimates predict that the new benefit will apply to about 40 percent of the state’s workforce.

The new “Healthy Workplaces, Health Families Act of 2014” requires paid sick leave for employees who, on or after July 1, 2015, work in California for more than 30 days within the first year of their employment. The leave must accrue at a rate of no less than one hour for every 30 hours worked, and must be available for use beginning on the 90th day of employment.  Although accrual is capped at 48 hours, employers may limit annual usage to 24 hours (or 3 days).

Employees may use the paid sick leave not only for their own illness and medical appointments, but also for children and parents (both broadly defined) as well as a spouse, registered domestic partner, grandparents, grandchildren and siblings. Time off may also be taken by victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, for the purposes described in Section 230 of the Labor Code.

If you are an employer who already has a paid time off policy that satisfies the provisions of the paid sick leave law—good news—you are not required to provide additional paid sick leave.  Furthermore, the law does not require payout of accrued, unused sick leave upon separation from employment for any reason.  However, this good news is likely offset by the additional posting and written notification requirements of the new law, which mandate posting a notice of rights developed by the Labor Commission in each “workplace of the employer”, as well as providing written notice of available sick leave on employee paystubs or in a separate written document provided to the employee each pay date.

The law also raises several new non-discrimination and retaliation issues for employers.  For example, the law prohibits an employer from denying an employee the right to use accrued sick days, and from discharging, threatening to discharge, demoting, suspending or in any manner discriminating against an employee for using sick days.  To deny an employee sick leave creates a rebuttable presumption of unlawful retaliation.  As a result, even employers who have a paid time off policy may need to segregate these hours so as to avoid liability in the administration of sick leave.

On the topic of workplace discrimination, California employers should also be on alert that Governor Brown signed yet another bill on September 9th (A.B. 1443) that extends discrimination and harassment protections under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (the “Act”) to unpaid interns and individuals in apprenticeship training programs. And employers with more than 50 employees must be prepared to train their supervisors on the topic of workplace bullying in their mandatory sexual harassment prevention training under the Act (see A.B. 2053).  Both laws will take effect January 1, 2015.

As a result of this flurry of employment-related legislation, any business with employees in the State of California should (a) begin to evaluate their leave policies and systems to determine what steps must be taken to be in compliance on July 1, 2015; (b) re-structure their mandatory sexual harassment prevention training to include bullying to the list of covered topics; and (c) take another look at their intern and apprenticeship programs to ensure that non-discrimination and anti-harassment protections are in place.

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