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New California Employment Laws for 2024

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California--the nation’s employment law trendsetter--implements new laws, from Reproductive Loss Leave to Retaliation Claims

Sacramento, CACalifornia has become the nation’s employment law trendsetter. California Legislature passed, and Gov. Gavin Newsom signed, a number of new or amended California employment laws that take effect January 2024 that could impact the business and the culture of the workplace. And they can make a difference to Californians’ lives, from cannabis users to employees who have suffered a “reproductive loss event”, from miscarriage to failed adoption. 

The Golden State has always been at the forefront of key issues, particularly when it comes to employment law, and with an emphasis on employee protections. For instance, in the past decade it has led the nation in ensuring that employers provide workers with a minimum amount of paid sick leave. And the new 2024 laws address paid leave (including reproductive loss leave); noncompete clauses; workplace violence prevention plans; retaliation related to employment terminations; and fast-food and healthcare workers minimum wage.

Unless otherwise stated, the following bills come into effect January 1, 2024.

S.B. 848: Reproductive Loss Leave

This bill makes it unlawful for an employer to refuse to grant an eligible employee’s request to take up to five days of leave following a reproductive loss event. A leave of absence includes the final day of a failed adoption, failed surrogacy, miscarriage, stillbirth, or unsuccessful assisted reproduction. SB 848 acts a subset to the current bereavement leave, which requires employers to provide bereavement leave upon the death of an employee’s family member. Up until now, reproductive-related losses were mainly not considered. Reproductive-related losses are a common occurrence and frequently lead to post-traumatic stress disorder:  Almost 1 in 3 women develop PTSD after a miscarriage.

S.B. 700: Off-Duty Cannabis Use and Drug Test Results

SB 700 expands California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act to protect applicants from discrimination based on prior cannabis use, with certain exceptions. Last year, Assembly Bill (AB) 2188 was passed, prohibiting employers from discriminating against “a person in hiring, termination, or any term or condition of employment” based on “the person’s use of cannabis off the job and away from the workplace. SB 700 expands this act: it now prohibits employers from requesting information from an applicant for employment relating to the applicant’s prior use of cannabis. Additionally, when an employer gathers criminal history information regarding an applicant’s prior cannabis use, SB 700 makes it unlawful for employers to use such information. However, there are exceptions for situations in which the employer is permitted to consider or inquire about that information under state or federal law.
And SB 700 exempts employers in the building and construction trade and explicitly does not pre-empt state or federal laws allowing for drug testing.

New minimum wages for fast-food and health care workers will provide hundreds of thousands of California health care workers with a significant pay boost. This new law is set to gradually increase their wages, beginning on June 1, 2024.

S.B. 525: Increased Minimum Wage for Health Care Workers

A multi-tiered statewide minimum wage schedule for health care workers employed by certain covered health care facilities will be enacted under this new law. “Covered health facility” covers nearly all health care facilities except those owned, controlled, or operated by the California Department of State Hospitals, tribal clinics exempt from licensure, and outpatient settings operated by federally recognized tribes. “Covered health care employee” covers a broad range of employees, from physicians and nurses to janitors and clerical workers.

A.B. 1228: Fast Food

The FAST Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act will be repealed and replaced with a $20 per hour minimum wage for fast food workers, starting April 1, 2024. This minimum wage will increase annually through 2029.  AB 1228 also creates a Fast Food Council which, starting in 2024, likely will make recommendations regarding other work place conditions.

S.B. 476 Food Handler Cards

The California Health and Safety Code currently requires certain workers to obtain a food handler card within 30 days of their hire date and to maintain this card throughout their employment as a food handler. SB 476 provides that time employees spend to complete food handler training and certification is compensable “hours worked,” for which the employee must be paid. It also requires payment of necessary expenditures or losses for the employee in obtaining a food handler card, and it requires employees to be relieved of all other work duties while taking the training course and examination.

Retaliation Claims

The Equal Pay and Anti-Retaliation Protection Act is amended to create a rebuttable presumption of retaliation if an employee experiences an adverse employment action within 90 days of engaging in any protected activity covered by the specified sections. It also allows a prevailing plaintiff to civil penalties for each violation. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), this new law will make it easier for employees to establish retaliation claims.

S.B. 699: Noncompete Agreements and Notice Requirements

SB 699 prohibits employers from entering into or attempting to enforce noncompete agreements with employees. The new law establishes that noncompete agreements are void in California regardless of where the employee worked when the employee entered into the agreement and/or where the employee signed the agreement.

Additionally, newly signed AB 1076 requires employers to notify current employees and former employees (employed after January 1, 2022) in writing by February 14, 2024, that any noncompete agreements they may have signed are void.

S.B. 553: Workplace Violence Prevention Program

As of July 1, 2024, California law will require employers to adopt comprehensive workplace violence prevention plans, either as part of their injury and illness prevention programs or as a separate document. This bill imposes specific requirements on employers, including:
  • recording incidents or threats in a violent incident log;
  • providing training to all employees; and
  • maintaining records related to a workplace violence prevention plan.

A.B. 594: Enforcement of Labor Code

AB 594 authorizes public prosecutors to bring civil or criminal actions for Labor Code violations and provides that any agreement between a worker and employer to limit representative actions or mandate arbitration is unenforceable in actions by the Labor Commissioner or public prosecutor.

A.B. 647: Grocery Stores & Business Restructuring

AB 647 expands the rights of employees when there is a change of control of a grocery establishment and amends the definition of grocery establishment to include grocery distribution centers.

A.B. 933: Sexual Harassment and Discrimination

AB 933 establishes that complaints and related communications regarding sexual assault, harassment, or discrimination are privileged and therefore protected from civil actions, such as defamation suits.

Employment lawyers advise employers to evaluate their personnel rules and practices to ensure they keep pace with these changes. One labor attorney suggests that employers take time to review these issues and create policies, strategies and training programs that balance legal compliance with the specific needs of their business.


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