California Remains Ahead of the Curve With Workplace Trends

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California continues to lead the way in expanding the rights of employees and obligations of employers in the workplace in many areas. This should come as no surprise to employers and HR since the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) extends protections to almost 20 protected classes and California provides employees with more than one dozen types of leave.

Here are four new California laws that employers everywhere should take note of as summer 2015 approaches:

1. Paid Sick Leave

Cities around the nation have been active in enacting paid sick leave measures but so far, only three states, including California, have passed paid sick leave laws. Under the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014, covered California employers must provide paid sick leave to any employee working in California for 30 days at an accrual rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked.

The law takes effect on July 1, 2015, and it is critical that all California employers be aware of its stringent recordkeeping, notice and posting requirements and update their employee handbooks and paid time off policies accordingly.

2. Abusive Conduct

Awareness of workplace bullying is on the rise, yet no state has enacted a law specifically addressing abusive conduct in the workplace. However, under a new California law that took effect on January 1, 2015, covered California employers required to provide sexual harassment training to supervisors are now also required to include specific harassment training on abusive conduct.

Abusive conduct is conduct that “a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests.” It may include “repeated infliction of verbal abuse… verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating, or the gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance.” The law does not create a private cause of action for abusive conduct, but it does require employers to revisit and revise their sexual harassment training to add an abusive conduct component.

3. Discrimination Protections for Interns and Volunteers

In today’s modern workplace, internships are often a way for potential employees and those interested in a particular field to gain exposure and learn. However, it has been unclear whether discrimination and harassment protections intended for employees and job applicants applied to such individuals.

California has eliminated any uncertainty and amended the FEHA to specifically extend protections against discrimination and harassment to unpaid interns and volunteers. Employers are also required to provide interns and volunteers with reasonable accommodations based on their religious beliefs. California employers should update their discrimination and harassment policies to comply.

Employers everywhere should take note of this trend as Illinois, Maryland, New York, Oregon and the District of Columbia have recently enacted such measures and legislators. Meanwhile, New Jersey and Connecticut have proposed similar laws.

4. Increased Protections for Immigrant Workers

With the US population becoming more diverse and immigrants entering the workforce at rapid rates, California has passed several measures in 2015 specifically providing increased protections for immigrants and foreign workers, including new laws:

• Prohibiting employers from reporting, or threatening to report, a worker’s (or the worker’s family
member’s) immigration status or suspected immigration status to a government official because the       worker exercised a right under the California Labor Code;

• Expanding the definition of an unfair immigration-related practice to include threatening to file or filing a   false report or complaint with any state or federal agency;

• Prohibiting employers from discriminating, retaliating or taking adverse action against employees based   on a lawful change of name, social security number, or federal employment authorization document;

• Making it a violation of FEHA for an employer to require an individual to present a driver’s license,
unless a driver’s license is required by law; and

• Amending FEHA to specify that “national origin” discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of
possessing a driver’s license issued by the state to undocumented persons who can submit
satisfactory proof of identity and California residency.

To learn more about these changes in California law and to ensure you are up to date on California employee handbook policies, join XpertHR for an informative webinar on May 13, 2015, at 1:30 pm ET/10:30 am PT, “The Special Case of California Employee Handbooks” led by Christopher Cobey and Benjamin Emmert of Littler Mendelson.

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