The California legislature prioritized workers’ rights during the summer session, and you’ll likely benefit from it. Governor Gavin Newsom signed a wide range of bills into law in October that will come into effect between now and January 1, 2024.
These new laws cover various topics that should impact every employee in California. Let’s break down the most important employment regulations you should know about for next year.
New Protected Leave Laws
By far the area of law that saw the most expansion is the requirement for protected leave. California employers are already held to some of the most rigorous leave laws in the country, with guaranteed sick leave for most workers, widespread parental leave availability, and family and disability leave options. However, the legislature determined the current requirements did not go far enough. As of October, Governor Newsom signed two additional bills into law expanding the right to leave: Senate Bills (SB) 616 and 848.
SB 616 has been referred to as the Paid Sick Leave Expansion law, and that covers much of what the new law accomplishes. It raises the current required number of paid sick days per year from three days or 24 hours to five days or 40 hours.
Additionally, SB 616 updates the requirements for sick leave accrual and carryover. Companies offering sick leave by accrual must grant employees at least one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked. They must also permit employees to carry over up to 40 hours of sick leave each year. These changes should help employees better care for themselves and their families without sacrificing their financial well-being.
SB 848 is just as important for families. It institutes a new form of protected leave for “Reproductive Loss.” Employers may not deny employees’ requests for protected unpaid time off work after experiencing a reproductive loss. This includes miscarriages, stillbirths, unsuccessful surrogacies or assisted reproduction, and failed adoptions. SB 848 provides workers with time to grieve and physically recover after an often grueling and traumatic loss.
New Retaliation and Discrimination Laws
Two new retaliation and discrimination bills were passed into law this October. The first, SB 497, is invaluable for anyone who has faced workplace retaliation in California. The bill establishes a rebuttable presumption of retaliation if a worker is fired or otherwise penalized within 90 days of engaging in protected activities.
A rebuttable presumption means that the courts are instructed to assume something has occurred until proven otherwise. Under SB 497, state courts will assume that employers are retaliating against employees if they take adverse employment action against them within 90 days of reporting discrimination, retaliation, or equal pay violations. Employers must provide a legitimate reason for the adverse action other than retaliation, or the case will be decided in favor of the employees. This change makes it substantially easier for workers statewide to file retaliation claims successfully.
Another bill that protects workers is SB 700, which institutes new protections for off-the-clock cannabis use. The law prohibits employers from requesting information from applicants or employees about their history of cannabis use to reduce the likelihood of unlawful discrimination against these workers.
It’s worth noting one bill that was not passed. The legislature advanced SB 403, which was intended to make caste a protected class like race or religion. However, Governor Newsom vetoed the bill, stating, “Because discrimination based on caste is already prohibited under these existing categories, this bill is unnecessary.” In other words, he declined to sign the bill into law because caste discrimination is already unlawful.
New Restrictions on Noncompete Agreements
A pair of new bills will make noncompete agreements not just void but illegal. In California, Business & Professions Code §16600 already renders noncompete clauses and contracts invalid and unenforceable. However, it does not prevent employers from including these clauses in new employment contracts, which may have a chilling effect on workers’ willingness to exercise their rights.
SB 699 and Assembly Bill (AB) 1076 change this. AB 1076 adds §16600.1 to the Code, which makes it unlawful to add a noncompete clause in any employment contract and is retroactive to new agreements issued on or after January 1, 2022. Meanwhile, SB 699 states that §16600.1 applies to employment contracts signed anywhere in the country if enforced in California. It also grants employees a private right of action against companies that attempt to place a noncompete in new agreements.
Public Prosecution for Labor Code Violations
Finally, AB 594 has been passed into law. This bill grants city and district attorneys the right to take civil or criminal legal action against employers violating the state Labor Code. Furthermore, it clarifies that employment agreements that prevent class action lawsuits or require arbitration do not affect public attorneys’ right to enforce the Labor Code.
This substantially expands the options for workers facing discrimination, retaliation, or other rights violations. Permitting parties other than the state labor commissioner to enforce the Code increases the likelihood that a given claim is pursued. It also ensures employers can’t avoid liability for labor violations through restrictive employment contracts.
Stand Up for Your New Employment Rights
Over the next few months, the new laws above will be going into effect statewide. You will soon have more options if you have been denied protected leave, face retaliation or discrimination, or have an unlawful noncompete clause in your employment contract.
No matter what mistreatment you’re facing at work, the skilled employment law attorneys at Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP can help. Our team is dedicated to advocating for the rights of California workers. We can help you better understand your rights, determine if you have a case, and represent you in court. Schedule your consultation with our San Francisco law firm today to learn how we can support your rights.