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Three new expansions of California law warrant employer considerations

Employers in California should carefully consider three new legal developments there.

1. California has restricted the use of nondisclosure agreements.

In California, employers may not include nondisclosure (confidentiality) provisions in settlement agreements involving allegations of sexual harassment or sex discrimination, or certain other sexual offenses (whether in the workplace or housing). See Senate Bill 820.

2. California has expanded its requirements for sexual harassment training.

Senate Bill 1343 has required sexual harassment training for most employers, effective January 1, 2020. Training is required for new hires, then again once every two years. California law also specifies particular topics that must be covered in the training.

3. California has expanded liability for discrimination.

Senate Bill 1300 has expanded liability for discrimination in a variety of ways. For example, the definition of sexual harassment has been expanded. Compared to federal law, California state law now provides that a single act of sexual harassment may itself be enough to be actionable, and further, under California law, the courts must now refuse to apply the stray remark doctrine. Additionally, this new California law creates the possibility of personal liability, in retaliation cases at least. Also, it limits the situations in which employers may require employees to sign a release and nondisparagement clauses, and limits an employer’s ability to recover its own costs and fees in litigation.

These are just some aspects of these new laws. California employers should carefully consider these new laws.

 

Will other states follow California’s lead with enhanced National Origin protections?

Effective July 1, 2018, California has, by way of administrative regulations, enhanced the protections against national origin discrimination found in its mini-Title VII called the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

These well-intentioned but poorly drafted regulations expand the definition of national origin, now, to include an individual’s or their “ancestor’s” “actual or perceived”:

  1. physical, cultural, or linguistic characteristics associated with a national origin group;
  2. marriage to or association with persons of a national origin group;
    tribal affiliation;
  3. membership in or association with an organization identified with or seeking to promote the interests of a national origin group;
  4. attendance or participation in schools, churches, temples, mosques, or other religious institutions generally used by persons of a national origin group; and
  5. name that is associated with a national origin group.

The regulations offer few helpful definitions to interpret these new rules.

  • What is a “physical, cultural or linguistic characteristic” besides an obvious accent?
  • What is a church “generally used by persons of a national origin group”? For example, one can guess that the Greek members of a Greek Orthodox church are protected, but how about the non-Roman members of a Roman Catholic church parish that includes people of every national origin?
  • What is a “name that is associated with a national origin group”? For example, is the name “Garcia” such a name, where it is generally considered the most common Hispanic last name, even though it is common in nearly every Latino country and non-Latino country, and is actually of Basque origin (with the Basque arguably not being Hispanic in the sense their traditional language is Basque not Spanish)?

One definition that is offered in these vague regulations is for the phrase, “national origin groups”:

“National origin groups” include, but are not limited to, ethnic groups, geographic places of origin, and countries that are not presently in existence.

Unfortunately that definition raises more questions than it answers. For example, what does it mean to say someone identifies with “countries that are not presently in existence”?

The regulations also take a strong position against English-only rules. Under these new California regulations, English-only rules are never permitted during employee breaks, lunch, or employer-sponsored events, and only rarely permitted during working time and in workplaces when narrowly tailored as required by a business necessity.

With regard to accents, again, those seem to be protected as a national origin “characteristic,” and as such discrimination on the basis of accents is only permitted when, again, mandated as narrowly tailored to a business necessity.

The regulations expressly state that they protect even unauthorized immigrants. The only exception is when mandated otherwise by federal law. This is true even where the individual presents, as part of the I-9 process, a California driver’s license that expressly identifies the individual as an undocumented worker. The regulations also state that even a “single unwelcome act of harassment” may be sufficient to violate these laws, without explaining how it is that an employer can ask such a worker about their work authorization without inadvertently crossing the line into having asked a question that the worker found to be a “single unwelcome act of harassment.”

It remains to be seen whether other states will follow California’s lead, or if at some point the federal government will do so under Title VII. However, employers in every state may wish to take a moment to review these new regulations. Arguably their poorly drafted language does not, at least in some instances, expand Title VII so much re-interpret its existing requirements. If other jurisdictions do decide to follow California’s lead, they will hopefully provide employers with more clear language, especially since employers generally probably agree with the basic thrust of what the California bureaucrats who drafted these regulations intended.

Source: 2 California Code of Reglations 11027, et seq.

California Court of Appeals rejects double-dipping for penalties in certain wage-hour cases

California state law provides for penalties and other liability under California’s Private Attorney Generals Act when an employer fails to provide an accurate, itemized wage statement (which statements must contain certain types of information further specified under California law). But what if the statement was correct when issued but later the employer is held liable for additional amounts, such as overtime or minimum wage amounts? Do otherwise correct wage statements become retroactively inaccurate because the employer is later held liable for additional amounts like overtime or minimum wage? Contending that it does, it has not been uncommon in California for plaintiffs in wage-hour casesto file wage-statement claims demanding the extra penalties.

A division of the California Court of Appeals recently rejected double-dipping, holding that, no, the wages statement do not become retroactively inaccurate, such that an employer becomes liable for extra wage-statement related penalties when they are found liable for amounts like overtime and minimum wage.

Source: Maldonado v. Epsilon Plastics, case no. B278022 (Cal.App. 4/18/18).

California adopts ABC Test for gauging independent contractor classification

The California Supreme Court announced a new test for determining whether a worker is truly an independent contractor or an employee under California’s wage orders (regulating wages, hours and working conditions).

(I)n determining whether, under the suffer or permit to work definition, a worker is properly considered the type of independent contractor to whom the wage order does not apply, it is appropriate to look to a standard, commonly referred to as the “ABC” test, that is utilized in other jurisdictions in a variety of contexts to distinguish employees from independent contractors. Under this test, a worker is properly considered an independent contractor to whom a wage order does not apply only if the hiring entity establishes:

(A) that the worker is free from the control and direction of the hirer in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of such work and in fact;

(B) that the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and

(C) that the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed for the hiring entity.

This new test continues California’s approach to scrutinizing whether the relationship includes a right to control and direct the work (test A) and whether the worker is engaged in an independent trade (test C), but adds a focus on whether the worker is doing “work that is outside the usual course” of the company’s own business (test B).

Companies that use independent contractors to do work that is within the company’s own “usual course” of work, much less that is being done by its own employees, should take special care to review this new test and determine if they are in compliance.

Source: Dynamex Operations v. Superior Court, case no. S222732 (Cal. 4/30/18).

San Francisco enacts Ban-The-Box ordinance for marijuana offenses

San Francisco is the latest to join a trend of authorities enacting ban-the-box legislation with an ordinance that supplements its “fair chance” law by, now, prohibiting employers from inquiring into marijuana use within California‘s marijuana-permissive law.

Source: San Francisco Ordinance No. 17-14.

California is at it again, this time, how to calculate overtime

Under federal law (the Fair Labor Standards Act, “FLSA”), a non-exempt employee’s regular rate of pay is calculated, for overtime purposes, for each workweek, by totaling their compensation that week (excluding only certain limited things likely discretionary bonuses) then dividing by their total hours worked that week. They receive half that on top of the pay they’ve already received as compensation for overtime hours worked (in excess of 40).

Under a recent California case, California has decided, yet again, to be the odd jurisdiction out and, now, mandates that the denominator is only non-overtime hours.

What’s the difference? Here’s a simple hypothetical to illustrate. Assume in Week-1 of the year, John works 42 hours at a rate of $10 per hour. He gets paid $420 for that straight time (42x$10). That same week, John also receives an attendance bonus of $42. So far, his pay that week totals $462 ($420+$42). His regular rate is therefore, under FLSA, $11 ($462/42). He still hasn’t been overtime, so for overtime, he gets paid half that regular rate $5.50 ($11/2) for the 2 hours he worked overtime, in other words, an extra $11. His total pay that week, under FLSA, is $473.

Under the California approach, when it comes to calculating the regular rate, the company can only divide by 40. So his regular rate of pay is $11.55 ($462/40), nearly a 10% increase. That means his overtime rate is half that, making his total pay that week is $473.50 ($420+$42+$11.50).

Source: Alvarado v. Dart Container Corp. of Calif., case no. S232607 (Cal. 3/5/18).