Overview of New California Employment Laws for 2014


Several employment-related bills were signed into law this fall. Some of the most important issues are highlighted here:

1. Minimum Wage (A.B. 10)

A.B. 10 increases the minimum wage over several years – the minimum wage rises to $9.00/hour from the current $8.00/hour on July 1, 2014 and increases to $10.00 per hour on January 1, 2016.

2. Wage and hour actions – Attorneys’ fees for employers (S.B. 462)

Existing law requires courts in lawsuits for the non-payment of wages, fringe benefits, or health and welfare or pension contributions to award reasonable attorneys fees and costs to the prevailing party of both party requests attorneys’ fees and costs when the lawsuit begins. Under the new law, employers can only recover these fees and costs if the court finds the employee brought the lawsuit in bad faith.

3. FEHA – Sexual Harassment (S.B. 292)

S.B. 292 provides that for purposes of the definition of harassment because of sex under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), sexually harassing conduct need not be motivated by sexual desire. The new law clarifies that hostile treatment can amount to unlawful sexual harassment regardless of whether the treatment was motivated by any sexual desire.

4. FEHA – Military veterans (A.B. 556)

A.B. 556 adds “military and veteran status” – meaning a member of veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces, U.S. Armed Forces Reserve, U.S. National Guard, and the California National Guard – to the categories protected from employment discrimination under FEHA Employer inquiries about military or veteran status for the purpose of giving a veteran preference as permitted by law are exempt.

5. Compensation – Meal and Rest of Recovery periods (S.B. 435)

Existing law prohibits an employer from requiring an employee to work during a meal or rest period mandated by an order of the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) and establishes penalties for not providing a mandated meal and rest period. S.B. 435 expands that prohibition to meal, rest, or recovery periods mandated by applicable statute, regulation, standard, or order of the IWC, the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board or the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, with certain exemptions.

“Recovery period” is defined as a cool-down period given to an employee to prevent heat illness. An employer that does not provide an employee with a recovery period must pay the same premium penalty that exists for unprovided meal or rest breaks – one additional hour of pay for each workday that the meal, rest or recovery period is not provided.

Employers with outdoor places of employment are subject to Cal/OSHA’s heat illness standard, which allows for cool-down periods in the shade of no less than five minutes at a time on an “as-needed” basis for employees to protect themselves from overheating.

6. Employment protections – Victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or staking (S.B. 400)

Existing law protects victims of domestic violence and sexual assault from adverse employment actions because they take time off from work to attend to related issues (including court proceedings), as long as the employer complies with certain conditions. S.B. 400 extends the protections to victims of stalking and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations – which may include implementing safety measures or procedures – to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. The bill also prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants or employees based on their known status as victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or staking. Under certain circumstances, violating the law is a misdemeanor.

7. Immigration-related practices (A.B. 263/S.B. 666)

It is unlawful for an employer to engage in an “unfair immigration-related practice” or otherwise retaliate against a person for engaging in protected conduct, including making a written or oral complaint about unpaid wages. Unfair immigration-related practices include requesting more or different documents than required for the Form I-9, using the E-Verify system at a time or in a manner not required by law, threatening to file or filing a false police report, and threatening to contact or contacting immigration authorities. Engaging in such practice within 90-days of a person’s exercise of protected rights raises a rebuttable presumption of retaliation.

A.B. 263 permits civil penalties of up to $10,000 per employee per violation for unlawful retaliation and authorizes employees to sue for damages, penalties, and equitable relief.

S.B. 666 provides for a suspension or revocation of an employer’s business license for retaliating against employees and their family members based on their citizenship or immigration status, including reporting or threatening to report their suspected citizenship or immigration status. It establishes a civil penalty up to $10,000 per violation. This bill also provides these protections to an employee for making a written or oral complaint for unpaid wages.