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New Bills Promise Worker Protections in California

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New Bills Promise Worker Protections in California

New Bills Promise Worker Protections in California

California is poised to enact five laws to increase worker protections against employer abuses. All have passed the state legislature and are waiting for Governor Newsom’s signature.

One bill would prohibit employers from penalizing workers for the otherwise legal use of marijuana outside of the workplace. AB2188 would amend the Fair Employment and Housing Act — which protects workers from employment discrimination on the basis of any of several protected classes such as race or sex — to add off-work marijuana use as protected activity. The law would not protect workers from adverse employment actions resulting from marijuana impairment on the job. Though the law would not go into effect until 2024, employees who suffer adverse employment actions based on off-work marijuana use may be able to argue they were wrongfully terminated in violation of public policy claim in the meantime. The bill also contains a few exemptions, such as the construction industry and jobs requiring a federal background check.

Another bill would start California on the path to enhancing wage theft protections for fast food workers. Narrowly-passed AB 257 would allow California to form a special council to set minimum standards for wages hours, and working conditions at fast food establishments, if 10,000 or more fast food workers sign a petition. The council would include two representatives each from fast food workers, worker advocates, the fast food industry, franchise owners, and the state government. This hotly contested bill recognizes the changing landscape for fast food workers as labor unions increasingly see their power whittled away by federal law and a changing workforce.

Also on Governor Newsom’s desk is a bill that would provide employees with five days of job-protected bereavement leave to care for a spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, domestic partner, or parent-in-law. AB 1949 would not require bereavement leave to be paid or provide a mechanism for replacement income for bereavement leave, but it would prohibit employers from terminating employees for taking bereavement leave. Worker advocates have previously tried and failed to enact bereavement leave in California. Hopefully Governor Newsom will sign this attempt into law.

In addition, AB 1041 seeks to expand the coverage of the California Family Rights Act to include a “designated person,” an individual whose relationship to the person seeking to invoke the Act’s protections is equivalently familial. If this bill passes, there may be litigation to resolve questions as to how to prove a person is a “designated person,” and how much detail an employer may demand from an employee to demonstrate that a person is a “designated person” before granting leave. Accordingly, should Governor Newsom sign this bill into law, employment rights attorneys seeking to enforce it should be prepared to establish the familial relationship between the the designated person and a client, as well as the sufficiency of the client’s communications with their employer.

Lastly, Governor Newsom will consider SB 1162, which would improve pay transparency and pay-data reporting. Among other requirements, the bill would require most employers to provide employees with pay scales for their positions on request and include pay scales in job postings. If an employer fails to keep these records, SB 1162 would create an evidentiary presumption in favor of an employee bringing a claim. If Governor Newsom signs this bill into law, advocates requesting employee personnel files should also be aware that they can also request pay scale information, to investigate possible record-keeping and Equal Pay Act violations.

Governor Newsom has until September 30 to sign these pieces of legislation into law. These bills would follow already-enacted worker protections from this legislative term, such as SB 836, which protects workers against threats of having their immigration status disclosed in open court, and AB 1576, which requires lactation accommodations for attorneys in state courthouses.

If you believe your workplace rights have been violated, contact Bryan Schwartz Law.

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