new-years-eve-1058678_960_720Everyone has favorite New Year’s traditions:  Champagne toasts, the Rose Parade, Ryan Seacrest, resolutions that may or may not last into February . . . the list goes on.

California employers should add another New Year’s ritual: learning the new laws that become effective New Year’s Day.  This post highlights some of the new statues taking effect on January 1, 2016, that may affect California public agencies:

  • AB 987 amends the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) to prohibit retaliation against an employee for requesting accommodation for his or her disability or religious belief whether or not the accommodation was granted.
  • AB 1509 amends several sections of the Labor Code, prohibiting retaliation against the family members of an employee who engaged in protected conduct; not just the employees who engaged in that protected conduct themselves.
  • SB 358 tightens the Labor Code’s prohibition of pay discrimination based on sex. The revised statute provides that an employer must not pay an employee at a wage rate less than the rates paid to employees of the opposite sex for “substantially similar work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort and responsibility” and performed under similar working conditions.  Where a gender pay gap is found, the employer is required to affirmatively demonstrate that the differential is based on a seniority system, a merit system, a system which measures earning by quality or quality of product, or a bona fide reason other than sex.  The employer must also show that the reason upon which it relied is reasonable and accounts for the entire wage differential.

Further, SB 358 prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee who takes any action under the statute.  It further mandates that an employer shall not prohibit an employee from disclosing the employee’s own wages, discussing wages of others, inquiring about another employee’s wages, or encouraging an employee to exercise his or her statutory rights.

  • SB 579 makes significant changes to California’s “Kin Care” and Child-Related Activities Law under the Labor Code. Employees will have protected leave for one half of their annual accrued sick leave or PTO (“paid time off”) for the following activities: the diagnosis, care, or treatment, of the employee’s own existing health condition, or preventative care; the diagnosis, care, or treatment of an existing health condition of, or preventative care for, an employee’s family member (no longer limited to child, parent, spouse, or domestic partner); or for an employee’s absence due to being a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

SB 579 further expands the types of “Child Related Activities” for which an employee can take up to 40 hours of leave (if his or her employer has 25 or more employees). The new activities include, for example, enrolling the child in a school, or leaving work to address a school emergency.  SB579 also expands the definition of a “parent” entitled to this leave to include guardians, stepparents, foster parents, grandparents, or other persons who stand in loco parentis to a child.

Please note that because AB 1509, SB 358, and SB 579 are parts of the California Labor Code, they may not apply to public agencies.  Two Court of Appeal decisions have held that provisions of the Labor Code that are not expressly made applicable to public agencies do not apply to public agencies.  Further, counties and charter cities may have an additional argument that SB 358 does not apply to them because it interferes with their constitutional right to set compensation for their employees.  However, as with any situation where there is not direct legal authority, agencies must consider that there could be a risk in not following these Labor Code provisions and consult with their legal counsel.

  • SB 570 modifies the Data Breach Notification Law to include additional specific requirements as part of the obligation to disclose the fact of a security breach by any agency that owns or licenses computerized data that includes personal information, such as that of employees.
  • SB 11 and SB 29 add training requirements for California peace officers in the handling of persons with developmental disabilities and mental illness. The training must be implemented by August 1, 2016.
  • SB 331, known by the acronym “CRONEY” (i.e., the “Civic Reporting Openness in Negotiations Efficiency Act”), requires that agencies that have adopted COIN (“Civic Openness in Negotiations”) ordinances to comply with new requirements including independent auditor review of the cost of any proposed agency contract, public disclosure of all offers and counteroffers on the agency’s website, specific disclosures about each negotiation session regarding that contract, disclosure of communications with representatives of the counterparty to the negotiations, and no fewer than two public hearings on the contract decision before a final determination can be made.
  • SB 186 revises sections of the Education Code to provide that sexual assault or sexual exploitation constitutes “good cause” for removal, suspension, or expulsion of a community college student, regardless of whether the victim is affiliated with the community college district.
  • SB 707 revises California’s Gun-Free School Zone Act of 1995 to remove persons holding valid licenses to carry a firearm from the list of persons exempted from the general prohibition on possessing a firearm in a place that the person knows, or reasonably should know, is a school zone. This law also adds specified reserve peace officers to the list of persons exempted from the gun prohibition, and makes changes as to who can carry ammunition onto school grounds and where ammunition can be stored.
  • AB 302 requires schools operated by school districts or county offices of education, and charter schools, to provide reasonable accommodations to a lactating pupil on campus to express breast milk, breast-feed an infant child, or address other needs related to breast-feeding.

These and other statutes signed in 2015 may affect your agency even before your New Year’s celebration ends.  LCW’s Legislative Roundup and Education Legislation Roundup provide comprehensive reviews of this year’s new legislation.  If you have questions about any of these topics, please contact our Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fresno, San Diego, or Sacramento office.