New California Employment Laws for 2024

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With the change from the old year to the new, brand-new labor and employment laws are coming into effect. This year’s legislative session ended with many bills impacting employers’ compliance efforts. Below is a quick overview to help you know what is changing and how it could impact your HR services. Unless otherwise noted, all laws go into effect on January 1st, 2024.

Leaves of Absence (SB 616 and SSB 848)

SB 616 significantly expanded the state’s paid sick leave (PSL) law, known as Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014. The law’s basic framework remains the same, but the amount of leave available for your employees will increase.

Currently, employers are required to provide at least three days or 24 hours of PSL, but SB 616 increases that to 5 days or 40 hours. The bill also raises employers’ cap on PSL accrual from six days or 48 hours to 10 days or 80 hours. It also increases the number of sick days an employee can roll over to the next year from three to five days. SB 616 also extends PSL procedural and anti-retaliation provisions to employees covered by a valid collective bargaining agreement.

How does this impact your business? Your HR department will need to update your PSL policies and note where local PSL ordinances are applicable. The state’s PSL expansion may offer more generous benefits than the local ordinances. If there is a difference between the laws, your company must follow the one that is more generous to employees. If you have questions, your HR outsourcing or HR consulting service can assist with this process and its implementation.

SB 848 creates a new leave of absence for an employee’s reproductive loss, requiring employers to provide up to five days of leave for certain reproductive loss events, including a miscarriage, failed adoption, failed surrogacy, stillbirth, or an unsuccessful assisted reproduction. Like bereavement leave, this law applies to employers with five or more employees and covers employees who have worked for you at least 30 days prior to the start of the leave. This leave must be taken within three months of the event unless the employee is on or chooses to take leave under another leave entitlement, such as the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), in which case, their productive loss leave must be taken within three months of the other leave’s end date. SB 848 provides that if an employee experiences more than one qualifying event, employers are not obligated to grant more than 20 days of leave within a 12-month period.

What does this mean for your business? Unlike the state’s bereavement leave law, this law doesn’t allow employers to request documentation supporting the need to take reproductive loss leave. Employers cannot discriminate or retaliate against employees seeking to exercise their rights under the law. You must also maintain employee confidentiality related to reproductive loss leave. The law also clarifies that leave for reproductive loss is separate and distinct from other leaves, including pregnancy disability leave or bereavement leave.

Workplace Safety

SB 553 enacted general industry workplace violence safety requirements that will apply to nearly all California employers and are under the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s (Cal/OSHA) jurisdiction. Under this new law, taking effect on July 1st, 2024, covered employers will have a number of obligations, including developing and implementing a workplace violence prevention plan (WVPP), either as a standalone document or as a part of their required Injury and Illness Prevention Plan (IIPP), training employees on the plan, creating workplace violence incidences logs, and various recordkeeping requirements.

Under this new law, workplace violence is defined as any act of violence or threat of violence that occurs in a place of employment, including the threat or use of physical force against an employee, an incident involving a threat, or the use of a firearm or other dangerous weapon. Actual injury is not required. Workplace violence doesn’t include a lawful act of self-defense or defense of others.

Who doesn’t this law apply to?

  • Employees who telework from a location of the employee’s choice.
  • Places of employment where fewer than 10 employees are working at the place at any given time and are not accessible to the public.
  • Healthcare facilities operating under Cal/OSHA’s Violence Prevention in Health Care regulations.
  • Law enforcement agencies.

What does this mean for your business?

The WVPP requirements are comprehensive and must include information that addresses the following 13 topics:

  • Individuals responsible for implementing the plan.
  • Effective procedures for obtaining employees’ and authorized representatives’ active involvement in developing and implementing the plan.
  • Methods the employer will use to coordinate implementing the plan with other employers, when applicable, to ensure that those employers and employees understand their respective roles.
  • Effective procedures for the employer to accept and respond to reports of workplace violence.
  • Effective procedures to ensure that employees comply with the plan with safe and healthy work practices.
  • Effective procedures to communicate with employees regarding workplace violence matters, including how to report an incident, how employee concerns will be investigated, and how employees will be informed of investigation results.
  • Effective procedures for responding to actual or potential workplace violence emergencies, including the means to alert employees of emergencies, evacuation or sheltering plans, and how to obtain help from staff assigned to respond to workplace violence emergencies.
  • Procedures to identify and evaluate workplace violence hazards, including scheduled periodic inspections to identify unsafe conditions and work practices and employee reports and concerns.
  • Procedures to develop and provide the training required by the law.
  • Procedures to correct identified workplace violence hazards in a timely manner.
  • Procedures for post-incident response and investigation.
  • Procedures to review the plan’s effectiveness and revise the plan as needed, including procedures to obtain active involvement of employees and representatives in reviewing the plan. The plan must be reviewed at least annually when a deficiency is observed or apparent and after a workplace violence incident has occurred.

It is also important to note that the plan must be in writing and must be available and easily accessible to employees, authorized employee representatives, and representatives from Cal/OSHA at all times. Employers are required to create a detailed violence incidence log for each instance of workplace violence, containing information regarding the date and location of the incident, description of the incident, what type of workplace violence (as defined), classifications of who committed the violence and the circumstances at the time, where the incident occurred and the type of incident (physical attack, attack with a weapon, threat of force, etc.) and any other information.

Employers are also required to keep certain records, including:

  • Records of workplace violence hazard identification, evaluation, and correction for five years.
  • Training records for one year.
  • Violence incident logs for five years.
  • Records of workplace violence incident investigations for five years.

Temporary Restraining Order Laws

SB 553 and SB 428 also expand the scope of the state’s workplace violence temporary restraining order laws (TRO), but these changes do not come into effect until 2025. Currently, an employer whose employee has suffered unlawful violence or a credible threat of violence that was or could be carried out at the workplace can seek a TRO against the individual responsible for the violence or threat of violence on behalf of the employee.

On January 1st, 2025, the law will also authorize an employee’s collective bargaining representative, not just the employer, to seek a TRO. Workplace TROs may also be sought when an employee suffers “harassment,” as defined, in addition to unlawful violence or a credible threat of violence. Harassment for purposes of workplace TROs means a “knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys, or harasses the person, and that serves no legitimate purpose.”

Additionally, the conduct must be something that causes a “reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress and must actually cause substantial emotional distress.”

What does it mean for your business?

Several people can initiate a TRO after January 1st, 2025, but there is also additional clarification regarding harassment for the purposes of a TRO. Employers need to be aware of these definitions and how they could impact their current policies.

Discrimination Based on Cannabis Use

AB 2188 will take effect in January 2024, prohibiting employers from discriminating against an employee or applicant based on the person’s off-duty, off-site cannabis use. The law does not permit an employee to possess, be impaired by, or use cannabis on the job. It maintains employers’ rights and obligations in keeping a drug- and alcohol-free workplace.

Plus, this year’s SB 700 makes some additions to AB 2188, prohibiting employers from requesting information from job applicants about their prior use of cannabis. Information about an individual’s prior cannabis use obtained from their criminal history is also off-limits unless the employer is allowed to consider it under the state’s Fair Chance Act. This law places strict limits on the review and consideration of history in employment decisions.

What does this mean for your business?

Employers can still conduct pre-employment drug testing, and they can still refuse to hire someone based on a valid pre-employment drug screening that looks only for psychoactive cannabis metabolites.

Harassment and Retaliation

California expanded its retaliation protections via SB 497. Under the current law, employers cannot discriminate or retaliate against employees for engaging in certain protected activities, such as filing a complaint with the California Labor Commissioner for a wage and hour violation or serving as a whistleblower. SB 497 adds to the law a rebuttable presumption in favor of an employee’s claim if an employer takes adverse action against the employee within 90 days of the employee’s protected action. This means the law will presume that the employer retaliated against the employee if they took adverse action within 90 days of the employee’s protected activity, shifting the burden to the employer to rebut that presumption with sufficient evidence. The bill also expands the maximum civil penalty from $10,000 per violation to $10,000 per employee for each violation for any employer found to have retaliated against a whistleblower.

Notice Requirements for the Labor Code

Labor Code section 2810.5 requires employers to provide a wage and employment notice to new hires that contain certain specified information. AB 636 also requires employers to provide information about federal and state emergency declarations applicable to any counties where employees are employed.

What does that mean for your business?

The bill requires employers to provide additional information to H-2A employees, beginning on March 14th, 2024, describing an agricultural employee’s additional rights and protections under California law. Another bill requirement is for the California Labor Commissioner to create a template notice by March 1st, 2024, that employers can use for this obligation.

Industry-Specific Laws for Employers

California also passed several bills regulating specific industries, including fast food, health care, and grocery stores. AB 1228 creates a Fast Food Council, which will determine minimum wages, working hours, and other working conditions for fast food restaurants. This law also raises the minimum wage for fast food restaurant employees to $20 per hour beginning April 1st, 2024.

After the initial 2024 increase, the Fast Food Council may establish a new minimum wage rate beginning January 1st, 2025. The highest hourly minimum wage the council may establish will be annual increases by either 3.5% or the rate of change in the Consumer Price Index.

What does that mean for your business?

The law applies to fast food restaurants that are part of a fast food chain consisting of 60 or more establishments nationally that meet the following criteria:

  • Share a common brand or that is characterized by standardized options for décor, marketing, packaging, products, and services.
  • Primarily provide food or beverages for immediate consumption on or off the premises to customers who order and pay for food before eating, with items either prepared in advance, prepared or heated quickly, and with limited or no table service.

SB 525 establishes five new minimum wage schedules for certain healthcare employees depending on the nature of the employer. Wage increases under this law are generally scheduled to take effect on June 1st, 2024, except for certain county-owned facilities, which will begin compliance in 2025.

The statute lists 20 types of covered facilities, including hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, mental and psychiatric care facilities, home health agencies, clinics, residential care, and many others.

Each of the wage schedules is different, and the wage rates are set for scheduled increases over time. It is important to note that the different wage schedules increase at different rates. Healthcare employers should review the new law carefully to ensure compliance with the correct rates. Working with an HR consulting firm, you can review your processes and wage regulations appropriately to ensure you meet all the new requirements.

AB 647 expands and revises requirements the law places on grocery employers’ hiring and reinstatements when a change in ownership or control occurs by adding certain distribution centers as “grocery establishments” for purposes of these requirements, expanding the number of workers covered under the law. The bill also creates a significant new private right of action.

Working with your full-service HR company, you can determine how these changes could impact your grocery store chain or franchise.

Noncompete Agreements

As the home to Silicon Valley and headquarters for thousands of businesses, California understands why employers might find value in noncompete agreements. Therefore, it is no surprise that they have decided to codify into law how these agreements can be enforced. AB 1076 makes it unlawful to include a noncompete clause in an employment contract or require an employee to enter a noncompete agreement that doesn’t satisfy specified exceptions.

The bill also requires employers to notify current and former employees who were employed after January 1st, 2022, and whose contracts included a noncompete that doesn’t meet one of the exceptions that the noncompete clause or agreement is void, as specified. Employees with such contracts must be notified in writing by February 14th, 2024.

SB 699 also adds that noncompete agreements are void regardless of where they are signed, even if that is outside of California. The bill also provides employees with the right to seek injunctive action and civil penalties.

What does that mean for your business?

Employers should review their noncompete agreements and determine which employees need to be notified by the February deadline. Your full-service HR company can also assist with reviewing your current noncompete agreements to determine if any qualify for the exceptions under the law.

COVID-19 – Displaced Workers

While the pandemic has subsided, virus-related laws and regulations still govern workplaces, but some are sunsetting. SB 723 extends an existing statute providing workers displaced by COVID-19 in certain industries with various recall rights when the employer has open positions. This law also adds a presumption that a covered employee separated from employment due to a lack of business, reduction enforcement, or other economic non-disciplinary reason is presumed to be separated due to a COVID-19-related reason unless the employer establishes otherwise.

Two COVID-19 laws are sunsetting at the end of 2023. The first is the COVID-19 notice requirements found in Labor Code section 6409.6, which requires employers to provide notice of COVID-19 exposures in the workplace. Remember that even after this state notice expires, Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 nonemergency regulations remain in effect. Cal/OSHA’s regulations also require employers to follow specific rules concerning exclusion from and return to work, COVID-19 testing, face coverings and respirators, and ventilation through February 3rd, 2025.

California’s COVID-19 workers compensation laws, enacted in 2020 that created rebuttable workers’ compensation presumptions will be sunset at the end of 2023.

To learn more about how these new laws will impact your company, contact CA HR Services, your full-service HR company. We can assist you to comply with these changes coming in 2024 and 2025.

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.