California has a reputation for strict laws and regulatory mandates, particularly in the workplace. Many of these laws are national laws that California has taken and expanded to add additional restrictions and requirements to these laws. In many instanceshis includes greater anti-discrimination protectionsand paid family leave insurance paid sick leave, a higher minimum wage along with more stringent overtime laws than federally required.
While some California laws only impact larger companies – such as Affirmative Action Plans, which only applies to companies with more than 50 employees, or those who have active Government Contracts – other human resources laws apply to all companies. Several of the biggest ones that have constant attention are described below.
- Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA): The California FEHA law prohibits employers from discriminating against protected classes in either the terms or the conditions of their employment. It also protects employees from harassment or from retaliation against a person who reports or opposes any unlawful discrimination in the workplace. Characteristics that are protected from discrimination under this law include the following:[i]
- National origin and ancestry
- Physical or mental disability
- Medical condition
- Genetic information
- Marital status
- Sex (including breastfeeding and related conditions)
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity/gender expression
- Pregnancy (including childbirth and similar medical conditions)
- Military and veteran status
In light of these restrictions in discrimination, this law also prohibits employers from including questions on job applications that ask about the applicant’s criminal conviction history. The employer may not inquire about this topic until the applicant has received a conditional job offer.i It is important to note this law as FEHA is often this first step for employees to file discrimination claims, which can later lead to potential lawsuits.
- Fair Pay Act: In addition to banning discrimination, the state of California has also prohibited discrimination based on sex, race, and ethnicity in terms of the payment of wages for materially similar work. In the event of a wage discrimination claim, the employer must demonstrate that the difference in pay is based upon a legitimate factor other than those that are prohibited. Legitimate factors to explain wage differences could include educational differences, additional training or experience, greater quality or quantity of work, and seniority. California has expanded on the Federal version of the Fair Pay Act to showcase the California Equal Pay Act which is further enforced by the Fair Employment and Housing Commission and outlines that an employee is not allowed to pay an employer is not to pay different wages to people of different sexes performing the same job.
- Employee Safety (California Occupational Safety and Health Act – CAL/OSH Act): California has passed the California Occupational Safety and Health Act, or CAL/OSH Act, which was approved by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Ultimately, employers are now are subject to OSHA rules that are now subject to OSHA and CAL/OSH. Under this law, employers must provide and maintain a safe and healthy workplace for employees. This requires that employers draft a written, effective Injury and Illness Prevention Program, and it is also recommended that safety plans are available as well. These plans should include instructions on safe workplace practices. In the event of a major injury, fatality, or serious illness caused by the job occurs, the CAL/OSHA office must be notified so that they may assist the worker and/or their family. Posters that display the CAL/OSHA protections are available and may be posted on job sites so that workers are made aware of their basic rights and responsibilities under this law.
- Workers’ Compensation Laws: Employers of all sizes are required to provide workers’ compensation benefits to their employees. Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance that provides employees with benefits in the event that they have a work-related injury or illness. In the state of California, it is a criminal offense not to secure workers’ compensation for your employees. California offers no excuses for failing to provide coverage, some employers have even faced prison time. With this insurance, Sole proprietors have the option of also purchasing this coverage for themselves as well, although it is often not the best option for these individuals. While this coverage is state-mandated, it is provided by licensed insurance companies. To assist employers with securing coverage, California does have a website in which employers can compare the rates of the top 50 workers’ compensation insurers.
- Whistleblower Laws: Whistleblower laws impact companies of all sizes. A whistleblower is an employee who reports information to a member of management or to a law enforcement agency when any employee, manager, or owner of a company is violating a state or federal regulation or when they are reporting unsafe workplace conditions. These laws dictate that employers may not make or enforce any regulations or policies that prevent an employee from becoming a whistleblower. In addition to this, they may not retaliate against a whistleblower or any other employee who has refused to participate in the illegal or noncompliant activity. OSHA and the United States Department of Labor actively investigate these claims, and they can fall into various categories from Employee Safety, Transportation Services, Environmental Protection, Financial Industry, Consumer Products and Health Insurance. The complaint and Investigation process is pretty formal and detailed to protect employees.
While these 5 laws represent just a few of the laws that are prevalent in today’s news that organizations of all sizes must be concerned about, there are many other relevant laws that employers must be aware of and follow. The California Chamber of Commerce has compiled a reference chart that displays which labor laws may apply to your business. The experts at CA Human Resources Consulting and Outsourcing Services can also assist your San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, or Nationwide small businesses to understand and comply with any relevant labor laws.
 SHRM. (n.d.). Labor and employment law overview: California.
CA HR Services specializes in working with small and medium-sized companies to help develop legal, efficient and appropriate HR processes and procedures that meet state and federal labor law requirements.