Important Changes To California Employment Laws in 2022
The start of the new year brings many updates and changes to employment laws in California. New laws regulating health and safety due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic went into effect at the start of 2022. The state legislature also made changes affecting workers’ rights and business operations that impact workers’ everyday lives.
It’s crucial for workers to be aware of these new developments and fully understand their rights.
When violations of employment law or a dispute between workers and their employees develop, the worker is vulnerable. Conflicts could lead to unpaid time away from their job or termination, which affects an employee’s livelihood. An employment lawyer helps employees understand their rights and fights for justice on their behalf.
They represent the employee during conflicts and mediation, ensuring the employer abides by all current employment laws. Understanding important changes in effect and getting advice from an employment lawyer can help employees like you avoid problems and protect your rights.
Health, Safety, and COVID-19 Laws and Regulations
Numerous bills and updates have changed how the state and employers handle health and safety concerns, primarily due to the ongoing pandemic caused by COVID-19. They include vaccination and testing requirement regulations, changes to exposure notification, and how statewide orders and guidelines are published.
Recent federal level changes to nursing home visitation also impact California nursing home employees and family members of nursing home residents.
Cal/OSHA Authority Expansion
Cal/OSHA, the state division in charge of occupational safety and health, now has more authority to penalize companies for violations due to the changes made from California Senate Bill 606. The previously existing law had limitations to the citations and penalty limits Cal/OSHA had the authority to distribute when companies violated worker safety laws.
The passage of the SB 606 workplace safety bill expands Cal/OSHA’s authority to include penalties when egregious violations and enterprise-wide violations occur. Egregious violations happen when an employer:
- Willfully or intentionally does not make a reasonable effort to correct a known violation
- Has a large number of violations that undermine health and safety
- Intentionally disregards their health and safety responsibilities
- Has a history of serious or repeated violations
- Engages in bad faith health or safety conduct
- Has a large number of injured or sick employees as a result of violations
- Violations lead to the hospitalization or death of their employee
The law requires Cal/OSHA to issue a citation for every egregious violation an employer commits. The penalties for these violations are based on the company’s number of employees.
Latest Cal/OSHA Emergency Temporary Standards
Regulations in the COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) issued by Cal/OSHA have fluctuated due to updates in science, the emergence of new virus variants, and current legal cases surrounding federal mandates of vaccines and testing.
The latest updates went into effect on January 14, 2022, and apply to most employees who aren’t covered by the Aerosol Transmissible Disease Standard.
Key changes made to the ETS now include:
- Requiring employers to make no-cost COVID-19 testing available to all employees who are exposed to the virus at work, even asymptomatic fully vaccinated employees
- Asymptomatic or fully vaccinated employees who are not excluded from work after close contact with a case of COVID-19 must wear a facemask and keep a physical distance of at least 6 feet from other employees at work for a minimum of 14 days
- Employees who are excluded from work but never develop COVID-19 symptoms and test negative at least 5 days after exposure are allowed to return to work after 7 days as long as they wear a face covering and maintain physical distance for another 14 days
- Employees who are exempt from wearing face coverings because of a mental health or medical condition who cannot wear an alternative face covering must continue to physically distance themselves and undergo twice-weekly no-cost testing
The latest legal ruling from the Supreme Court blocks the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for large private companies. Privately run companies are not federally mandated to require vaccination or testing but may create their own company-wide policies instead.
The latest court ruling upheld the mandate for health care workers in facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding, including nursing homes. Workers at these sites are often dealing with more vulnerable populations. Vaccine mandates help reduce exposure and spread of the COVID-19 virus to patients and residents in these facilities.
COVID-19 Exposure Notification
California Assembly Bill 685 created requirements for businesses to follow after a COVID-19 exposure at their worksite. Under this law, employers must inform their employees about potential exposure and provide notice of their COVID-19 benefits, along with their disinfection and safety plans, within one business day.
This bill also requires employers to notify the local public health department about potential virus outbreaks.
Assembly Bill 654 amends the previous bill to clarify exposure notification procedures. It updates the language to include notifying all employees who were on the worksite premises with the infected individual at any point during the infectious period.
The bill also clarifies that employers have up to one business day or 48 hours to inform the public health department about the outbreak. It also expanded the list of medical facilities excluded from reporting cases to the public health department since other regulations govern their notification process.
Publication of Statewide Guidance and Orders About COVID-19
Senate Bill 336 requires that the California Department of Public Health publish all statewide orders and guidance related to COVID-19 on their websites and list the dates these orders are effective.
It also allows local public health workers to create an email distribution list for their own communities. This distribution list allows local small businesses, nonprofits, community centers, and individuals to sign up and receive email guidance, orders, and updates.
Changes to Wages and Hourly Work
Several recent bills in the state senate and assembly affecting wages and hourly work take effect in January 2022. There were also important state court cases and changes to the California state minimum wage that impacts workers in 2022 and beyond.
Updates for Janitorial Workers Represented by Unions
Previously, janitorial employees could bring a civil action to recover damages caused by violations of wage or hourly payment laws through the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) of 2004. California SB 646 exempts certain janitorial workers from PAGA claims if their cases were filed on or after January 1, 2022.
Janitorial employees are exempted from filing PAGA claims if they:
- Are represented by a labor organization that has represented janitorial workers prior to January 1, 2021
- Are employed by a janitorial contractor registered as a property service employer with the commissioner during 2020
- Have performed work under a valid collective bargaining agreement (CBA) before July 1, 2028
Changes in the Garment Industry
A new law prohibits employers in the garment industry from paying their employees by the piece or unit. Along with ending payment by the piece, California SB 62 expands the definition of garment manufacturing to include altering a garment’s design, attaching labels to a garment, and dyeing garments.
It also awards penalties of $200 per employee against a garment contractor or manufacturer for each pay period they receive payment by the piece rate.
Prohibiting Quotas at Pharmacies
The practice of establishing quotas as part of a pharmacist’s job performance in chain pharmacies was prohibited by California SB 362. Under this bill, a chain pharmacy is defined as operating 75 or more pharmacy stores under the same ownership in California. It applies to licensed pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.
This law prohibits any quota that includes a fixed number or formula related to their work, such as:
- Filling prescriptions
- Services or tasks rendered to patients
- Revenue obtained from their work
- Programs that are offered to patients
Expansion of Wage Theft Penalties
Existing wage theft laws in California were amended in 2021 through AB 1003, which expanded the definition and penalties for wage theft. This bill makes the intentional theft of wages or gratuities in amounts greater than $950 from any one employee or $2,350 for two or more employees within 12 months by their employer punishable as grand theft.
It expands previous laws to include benefits and other forms of compensation and includes independent contractors. Victims of wage theft are allowed to recover their losses through restitution.
California Supreme Court Decisions
Two California Supreme Court decisions impact timekeeping procedures and payment in the state. The Court upheld Donohue v. AMN Services, LLC and stated that rounded time punch cards did not comply with California’s existing meal period laws and cannot be used.
The Court’s unanimous decision of Ferra v. Loews Hollywood Hotel, LLC found that payment due to employees for noncompliant breaks was the same as their regular rate of pay for overtime purposes. This ruling included all non-discretionary payments such as production bonuses, commissions, and hourly wages. Both court cases may affect workplace policies and procedures going forward.
Statewide Minimum Wage Changes
Statewide minimum wage increases took effect January 1, 2022. Across California, minimum wages are now $14 per hour at businesses with 25 or fewer employees. For employers with 26 or more employees, the minimum wage is now $15 per hour.
Minimum salaries for white-collar exemptions are also increasing. Local jurisdictions may have even higher minimum wage requirements, so workers should stay up-to-date with their local regulations.
Changes were also made to minimum wages paid to people with disabilities. California SB 639 phases out existing laws that granted permits to employers to pay people with mental or physical disabilities subminimum wages. As of January 1 of this year, no new permits will be issued, and all previous permitted employees must raise wages to the state minimum for their disabled workers by January 1, 2025.
Updates Impacting Independent Contractors
The passing of California AB 1561 helped clarify existing exemptions in previous legislation that defined how workers are classified as employees or independent contractors and listed exemptions to the definition. It also extended the timeline to exemptions granted to licensed manicurists and construction trucking industry contractors and subcontractors. Instead of lapsing on January 1, 2022, they were extended until January 1, 2025.
The bill further clarifies exemptions made in the insurance industry as well. Under AB 1561, exemptions are permitted for claims administrators and third-party administrative work. This includes licensed workers who provide underwriting services, premium audits, risk management, or loss control work for insurance or financial services companies.
Another critical change came about through AB 1506, which expands previous exemptions to include newspaper distributors and carriers until January 1, 2025. This bill requires all newspaper publishers and distributors to submit workforce information to the Labor and Workforce Development Agency on or before March 1 of every year covered by the expansion.
Public Works and Construction Work Changes
New laws are more clearly defining public works and the construction industry. In 2021 the California Supreme Court issued several opinions relating to wage laws and the definition of public work.
In Busker v. Wabtec Corporation, the Court upheld that publicly funded rolling stock work, such as trains, is not covered by the definition of public work nor required to provide prevailing wages. The Court ruled that public works only include fixed structures, as defined in Labor Code 1720.
The case of Mendoza v. Fonseca McElroy Grinding Co. addressed similar labor laws. They argued that section 1772 of the Labor Code expands the prevailing wage obligation to construction work beyond the original definition. The Court rejected this argument, and extensions to prevailing wages weren’t made.
Construction Industry Changes
While court cases more clearly defined the type of work included in public work and prevailing wages, the state legislature passed new laws further regulating the construction industry. California SB 727 expands labor-related liability for construction contractors, while AB 1023 changed contractor recordkeeping.
Previously a contractor’s liability was limited to unpaid wages, fringe benefits, and other benefit payments and contributions, including owed interest. Contractors were not liable for liquidated damages or penalties. SB 727 increases contractor liability by including liquidated damages, penalties, and interest owed by subcontractors.
California AB 1023 revises contractor payroll record-keeping requirements. The new law mandates that contractors and subcontractors submit payroll records to the Labor Commissioner at least once every 30 days while construction work is being performed. It also requires them to submit records within 30 days of the final workday of their project being completed.
Under this law, all contractors and subcontractors must submit the records electronically and in the format prescribed by the Labor Commissioner. Any contractor or subcontractor who fails to follow the new requirements may face a penalty of up to $100 per day or $5,000 per project.
Changes to Required Job Postings
California Senate Bill 657 updates regulations for the distribution of employment postings. The law states that whenever an employer physically posts a job listing, they are also required to distribute the same information through email and digital files to their employees. Distributing job and employment information digitally does not change that employers are still obligated to display the same postings physically.
Updates to the California Family Rights Act
Significant changes to the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) took effect in 2021 following the implementation of provisions from California SB 1383. This included expanding existing family rights to include employers with 5 or more employees. This law allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave over a year-long span to care for family members without fear of losing their job.
After this bill passed, a further amendment expanded the list of family members eligible to take CFRA leave. California AB 1033 added parents-in-law to the list of caregivers and made procedural changes to small employer family leave mediation programs. These changes impact employers with 5 to 19 employees, and this program remains in effect until January 2024.
Changes in Equal Opportunity Employment
The passing of two state senate bills in 2021 impact equal employment opportunities and legal cases involving this issue. The two California Senate bills affect settlement agreement disclosures, non-disparagement clauses, and how employers must maintain and preserve personnel records.
California Senate Bill 331, also known as the Silenced No More Act, expands previous laws to more broadly prohibit confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements and now includes any type of workplace harassment and discrimination. It allows the settlement amount to remain confidential.
The bill also expands the existing non-disparagement clause. The new law makes it illegal for employers to prohibit their employees from disclosing harassment, discrimination, or other workplace conduct that they believe is unlawful.
California SB 331 expands the requirements of separation agreements to include the following provisions:
- Must provide notice of employee’s right to consult with a lawyer
- Allow for a reasonable time of up to 5 business days for employees to consult with their lawyer
- Employees that accept the separation agreement before this five-day window is over must do so knowingly and voluntarily
- Any amount paid in the separation agreement must be kept confidential
Equal employment opportunities and civil rights complaints are also affected by procedural changes made through California SB 807. This law changes the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) requirements, now making employers preserve their personnel records for at least four years.
If a workplace complaint is filed with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), employers may need to preserve their records beyond four years.
SB 807 also clarifies time limits for filing a civil rights complaint. Victims are permitted one year to file a complaint with DFEH after sexual harassment has occurred and three years if unlawful discrimination has occurred. It expands the filing of complaints to include serving complaints electronically and through the mail or in person.
Berberian Ain is Here to Help
If you’re experiencing harassment, discrimination, wage theft, or other disputes at work or from your employer, there is legal action you can take. Protect your rights, safety, and livelihood by contacting a law firm. Consider hiring Berberian Ain LLP for your case.
Our employment lawyers understand how overwhelming and stressful cases involving equal employment opportunity and wage theft can be. We stay up-to-date on the laws and court rulings that impact your employment case.
Our attorneys will fight on your behalf to settle disputes and negotiate fair compensation. Contact us today for a free consultation of your employment-related case.