Employers and employees are bound together in a relationship defined by contract, convention and the law. California employment laws are constantly being reviewed and amended to balance the competing interests of workers and their employers. Here are a few of the changes that employees and employers should be aware of going forward:
Sexual Harassment, Senate Bill 1300
This bill makes it clear that employers may be held responsible for acts of harassment committed by nonemployees if the employer or certain other parties knew or should have known about the conduct and didn’t take immediate and appropriate corrective action. The bill, under certain exceptions, would prohibit an employer from requiring an employee(s) to release their claims under FEHA or stop them from disclosing unlawful acts, including but not limited to sexual harassment, in their workplace, in exchange for continued employment, or in exchange for a bonus or raise.
Another important aspect of SB 1300 is that it limits the situations in which an employer could collect attorney’s fees and costs from a worker who made unsuccessful claims of sexual harassment. Such an award would only be available in cases where the claims were frivolous, unreasonable or groundless when they were brought, or when a plaintiff continued to litigate after the claims lost their merit.
Lactation Accommodation, Assembly Bill 1976
Under this law, employers are required to make reasonable efforts to provide employees with a room or other location expressly for lactation purposes. The room cannot be a bathroom. Employers must be able to show that such an accommodation would be an undue hardship to be allowed to use a bathroom as the designated location, though they would still have to provide a space other than a toilet stall for employees to express milk.
Salary History Inquiries, Assembly Bill 2282
This bill added definitions for the terms, pay scale, applicant and reasonable request to existing law. The new law requires employers to provide someone who has completed an interview with a salary or hourly wage range for the position. Employers continue to be barred from relying on or seeking salary history information from an applicant. The new law does allow employers to ask applicants about their expected salary.
Defamation, Libel and Sexual Harassers, Assembly Bill 2770
This bill protects sexual harassment victims from being sued for defamation by their alleged harassers. It also protects employers from similar suits by harassing employees, thus allowing them to tell other potential employers of the sexual harassment accusations without fear of a defamation lawsuit.
Paid Family Leave Update, Senate Bill 1123
Looking farther ahead, SB 1123 will expand the Paid Family Leave wage replacement program starting in 2021. Employees will have access to the program to handle situations arising from the covered active duty status of their spouses, domestic partners, children or parents.
New Sexual Harassment Prevention Training, Senate Bill 1343
Starting January 1, 2020, all California employers with 5 or more employees must provide supervisory employees with at least 2 hours of sexual harassment training. They would also be required to provide nonsupervisory employees with at least 1 hour of sexual harassment training. The training would be classroom or other effective interactive training and education. Employers would also have to provide sexual harassment training and education to each employee at least once every two years going forward.
Confidential Settlement Agreements, Senate Bill 820
The use of confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements is restricted in this bill, starting January 1, 2019. The bill applies to settlement agreements reached in civil or administrative proceedings based on the following violations:
- Sexual assault
- Sexual harassment
- Workplace harassment or sex discrimination
- The failure to prevent workplace harassment or sex discrimination
- Retaliation against a person for reporting harassment or sex discrimination
Courts will no longer be allowed to enter, by stipulation or otherwise, an order that prevents parties from disclosing factual information involved in the settlement. The bill specifically allows for confidentiality orders meant to protect the identity of the victim. It also allows provisions that prevent the parties from disclosing the amount paid in settling the claim. The bill declares these nondisclosure provisions related to factual information of the claim are void as a matter of law and against public policy.
Equality and Corporate Boards of Directors, Senate Bill 826
This bill requires all public companies with the principal executive offices in California to have a minimum of 1 female on its board of directors by the end of 2019. By the end of 2021, companies will be required to have a minimum of 2 female directors if the company has 5 directors, or 3 female directors if the board consists of 6 or more directors. The bill further authorized the Secretary of State to impose fines against companies that do not meet the requirements.
Addressing Sexual Harassment Claims, Senate Bill 224
This bill expands the group of people who can be held liable for sexual harassment to include investors, elected officials, lobbyists, directors and producers. In general, it allows for sexual harassment liability when the victim can show that the defendant held himself or herself out as someone who can help them establish a business, service or professional relationship with the harasser or a 3rd party. It also takes away the old requirement that sexual harassment victims must prove that they were unable to easily terminate the relationship.
Additionally, SB 224 makes the Department of Fair Employment and Housing responsible for enforcing sexual harassment claims. It also makes it illegal for someone to incite or help someone else denial the rights of persons related to sexual harassment actions.
These are just a few of the changes enacted by the California Legislature that will affect employers and employees in 2019 and beyond.
Sources: California Employment Law Report; HR Watchdog; CaliforniaBreastfeeding.org; California Legislative Information