By Ella Zalon
It is that time of year again! Recent legislative developments in California may prove to be favorable for many California employees. Governor Newsom recently signed a slew of bills that will be applicable to nearly all California employees, while some are industry-specific. Listed below are some notable bills and when they will go into effect. Employees should take note of any rights and benefits they may be entitled to, while employers must ensure compliance with updated laws.
Arbitrations and Contracts
Arbitration Appeal Delays – SB 365 (Effective January 1, 2024)
This change to the civil procedure laws is not specific to employment cases but has favorable implications for workers who have arbitration agreements. Under the status quo, if an individual defeats enforcement of an arbitration clause at the trial court level, the party wishing to enforce the arbitration clause can appeal and get an automatic stay of the trial court case. In practice this meant that employers who created the arbitration clauses could halt a case for quite some time. Now, when one side appeals a denial of a motion to compel arbitration, the trial court case will not be automatically stayed. It will now be evaluated on an individual basis by the trial court judge whether the case will continue to run even while an appeal is pending. This law will in some ways safeguard the pursuit of a court case against lengthy delays.
Though California had pre-existing bans on noncompete clauses in employee contracts, two new bills have been signed to further reinforce these bans. To further protect employees from illegal noncomplete clauses, SB 699 makes null and void any contract with a noncompete clause regardless of where or when it was signed. This bill retroactively invalidates contracts with such provisions and names these contracts a civil violation. Former, current, and prospective employees may seek restitution if their employer has had them sign such contracts. AB 1076 notably requires that employers who have provided employees with contracts containing noncompete clauses must notify these employees that the agreement is void. Any California employees who have signed such contracts should be on the lookout for notification from previous and current employers and may even seek financial restitution.
Protection of Employee Rights
Defamation Lawsuits, Employee Defendants – AB 933 (Effective January 1, 2024)
An employee’s speech about experiences of sexual assault, harassment, or discrimination is already protected speech under California employment law. This new law entitles these employees to have their attorneys’ fees paid in the case that they prevail as a defendant in a defamation lawsuit. This law represents a strike back at the trend of alleged wrongdoers using defamation to silence survivors. The costs of hiring a lawyer to defend against a defamation case can be intimidating enough to deter many from coming forward to seek justice. The new ability to recover attorneys’ fees lessens this financial risk for employees who wish to speak out about sexual assault, harassment, or discrimination.
Rebuttable Presumption and Retaliation – SB 497 (Effective January 1, 2024)
What exactly is a “rebuttable presumption?” It means that the facts of one side of a case are presumed true, while placing the burden on the accused side to prove otherwise. This bill creates a 90-day rebuttable presumption in favor of employees claiming retaliation from their employers. If an employee engages in a protected activity (such as discussing wages with coworkers or reporting misconduct in the workplace) and their employer takes an adverse action against them within 90 days of the protected activity, there is a presumption that the employee was retaliated against unless their employer can include otherwise. The bill increases the financial penalties of employers guilty of retaliating against and employee and strengthens protections around disclosing wages. An array of things is accomplished here. Employees gain further protection when discussing wages and their claims of retaliation are presumed truthful at the outset if adverse actions occur within 90 days of protected activity.
Workplace Violence Prevention – SB 553 (Effective January 1, 2025)
New standards will be put into place for planning for the safety of employees. By a deadline of July 1, 2024, nearly all California employers will be required to create a workplace violence prevention plan. The plan must identify workplace hazards and include injury prevention planning. This new law also includes requirements for training employees and meticulous recordkeeping in a violence incident log. Remote workers, specified government agencies, and certain health care employers are exempt from the new law, as are employment locations with fewer than 10 employees working at one time, where there is no access from the public.
Wages and Sick Pay
Paid Sick Days – SB 616 (Effective January 1, 2024)
Requirements regarding accrual and capping of paid sick days will change with this new law. Starting in 2024 California law will now require that employees have no less than 40 hours of accrued sick pay hours by a year’s end (or after the 200th calendar day of employment). This requirement was previously no less than 24 hours. For most workers, this means the law now increases the minimum paid sick days from three to five days. Under this new law, an employee may accrue up to 80 hours of sick pay, as opposed to the previous 48 hours. This bill will also expand protections from retaliatory actions from employers towards employees who assert their right to sick pay.
Fast Food Council – AB 1228 (April 1, 2024)
The minimum wage for fast food workers will likely be raised to $20 an hour on April 1, 2024! This law applies to workers at national fast food chains. Annual increases set by a Fast Food Council may begin January 1, 2025. A new Fast Food Council will be responsible for wages and workplace standards in the fast food industry. There has been much negotiation leading up to the signing of this bill, which represents a replacement of last year’s fast food legislation (covered in our last annual round-up).
Minimum Wages: Health Care Workers – SB 525 (Effective June 1, 2024)
Covered health care workers, both hourly and salaried employees and contracted or subcontracted workers, can expect to see scheduled minimum wage raises in the next several years. The first scheduled raise will be to a minimum wage of $18/hour, $21/hour or $23/hour, effective June 1, 2024, depending on the category of health care facility. The law is anticipated to impact a large majority of healthcare workers in California.