For the past few years, there have been some disappointments for workers when it comes to their rights and their protection. Fortunately, where federal law fails, California has taken strides to ensure its workers have the rights and protections they deserve. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons California employees have to celebrate:
1. Wage-and-hour increases
There has been a lot of discussion about minimum wage lately. Federally, it has not increased since 2009, when it rose from $6.55 to $7.25 an hour. However, in California, the minimum wage is set to increase to $15 an hour by January 2, 2023. Right now, the minimum wage in California is $12 or $11 an hour, depending on the number of employees an employer has. However, some cities have higher local minimum wages, including Pasadena, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Berkeley. For many workers, this is something to commend.
Agricultural workers also have cause to rejoice because in 2019, California just made it easier for them to receive overtime, or time-and-a-half, pay. Previously, these workers did not receive overtime pay until they reached 10 hours a day, or 60 hours a week. Now, there will be phased-in changes that, by 2025, will require all employers of agricultural workers to pay their employees for overtime after the much more standard 8 hours a day, or 40 hours a week. For now, only agricultural employers of more than 25 employees will be affected, and they will be required to pay overtime when their employees work more than 9.5 hours a day, or 55 hours a week.
2. Improved protections against national origin and ancestry discrimination
While the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) gave some protection to applicants and employees who are discriminated against based on their national origin, last July ushered in more expanded protections by broadening the definition of “national origin” and defining what counts as national origin discrimination.
The new definition of “national origin” encompasses a myriad of new elements, including marriage to or association with a national origin group, tribal affiliation, physical/cultural/linguistic traits associated with a national origin group, attendance/participation in schools or religious institutions typically employed by persons of a national origin group, membership in or association with an organization identified with or seeking to promote the interests of a national origin group, and name that is associated with a national origin group.
Furthermore, the updated definition of national origin discrimination includes, with some exceptions, the following: language restriction policies, discrimination based on accent or English proficiency, height and weight requirements, recruitment or assignment of positions/facilities/geographical area based on national origin, and inquiring into immigration status or discriminating based on immigration status.
3. Increased training on human trafficking and sexual harassment
For employees who are likely to come into contact with victims of human trafficking, employers must now provide at least 20 minutes of defined training and education about human trafficking. This will apply to employees whose jobs entail recurrent interactions with the public, like hotel receptionists and cleaners. This is something everyone can rejoice, including the employees who end up saving people from human trafficking situations.
In addition to human trafficking training, there are also new requirements concerning training about sexual harassment. By the beginning of 2020, all employers with at least five employees will be required to satisfy particular sexual harassment training requirements. Supervisors must receive two hours of training within six months of being in their position and then receive it again every two years. Employees who are not supervisors are mandated similarly, except the length of their training is one hour instead of two.
4. Improved protections against sexual harassment
There has been much recent legislation passed that was prompted by the MeToo movement. For example, one new law prohibits companies from demanding secrecy when it comes to settlements related to sexual harassment/assault and sex-based discrimination. That means victims will be able to speak out against abusers if they want to and will not be subject to non-disclosure provisions in settlement agreements. Hopefully, this law will help end repeated abuse by the same people with different victims, as harassers will not so easily continue to offend.
5. More women on corporate boards
In some particularly exciting news, California is the first state in the U.S. to legally require gender diversity. By the end of 2019, publicly traded companies with headquarters in California will be required to have at least one woman on their boards of directors. Moreover, by the end of 2021, boards with five directors must include two women minimum, and boards with six or more directors must include three women minimum. This is good news not just for women, but for everyone, as substantial research indicates that companies perform better and turn a bigger profit when women are on the boards (e.g., Credit Suisse, Catalyst, Peterson Institute for International Economics, University of California Davis, etc.). Moreover, this new legislation does not require men to lose their board member positions, as companies are permitted to increase the number of board members.
6. More accountability for worker safety
While at the federal level, employees are seeing less protection against workplace injuries and illnesses, in California, recent developments further protection for workers. Among other things, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, also known as Cal/OSHA, now has five years, instead of only six months, to give citations to employers who fail to record injuries or deaths accurately. That means increased accountability for employers and increased protection for workers.
Hopefully, this list provided some comfort or satisfaction to California employees. Workers constitute the backbone of a society, and the current California legislators seem to realize this. Under Governor Gavin Newsom’s leadership, it can be expected that worker protection will continue to be a priority.
Of course, despite legislation, there are still violations of rights and because of this, it is vital for employers and employees to understand the laws that affect them. If you think your rights as an employee have been violated, you should talk to an employment attorney to see what can be done to rectify the injustice