As the new year approaches, California employers and employees alike must brace for significant changes in the state's employment landscape. The legislature has enacted several crucial laws that will reshape employment practices in 2024. Here's a look at some of the key changes that will come into effect:
Minimum Wage Increases:
Senate Bill 525 introduces a multitiered minimum wage structure for health care workers, dependent on the nature of the employer. For the broader workforce, California's minimum wage rises from $15.50 to $16.00 per hour for all employers on January 1, 2024. Fast food workers will experience a separate increase to $20 per hour on April 1, 2024, with annual increments through 2029. Employers must ensure timely adjustments to pay rates based on these new schedules.
Benefits Changes – Paid Sick Leave and Reproductive Loss Leave:
Senate Bill 616 transforms the paid sick leave (PSL) landscape. California Paid Sick Leave (PSL) jumps from 24 to 40 hours annually from January 1, 2024. The bill mandates increased compliance with accrual and carryover caps, setting a minimum accrual of 1 hour of PSL per 30 hours worked. Additionally, employers are now required to provide written notice of available PSL on employee pay stubs. On another front, Senate Bill 848 mandates up to five days of reproductive loss leave starting January 1, 2024. Employers should promptly update their policies to incorporate these changes.
Off-the-Job Cannabis Use:
Assembly Bill 2188 provides increased employment protections for Californians engaging in off-duty cannabis use. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against workers testing positive for non-psychoactive cannabis metabolites. This groundbreaking amendment acknowledges that the presence of these metabolites doesn't indicate impairment. Employers are no longer permitted to penalize employees based on past cannabis use revealed in drug screenings. This law underscores the need for employers to reassess their drug testing policies.
Discrimination and Retaliation Updates:
Senate Bill 497 establishes a rebuttable presumption of discrimination or retaliation for adverse actions within 90 days of protected conduct. Employers should be aware that this change now makes it easier for employees to demonstrate a prima facie claim of retaliation.
Noncompete Agreements and Notice Requirements:
Senate Bill 699 imposes civil liability on employers attempting to enforce noncompete agreements, even if valid under another state's laws. Employers must furnish written notice by February 14, 2024, informing employees of the nullity of existing noncompete agreements. This necessitates a thorough review and update of employer policies to align with the new regulations.
Assembly Bill 933 expands defamation privilege to communications about incidents of sexual assault, harassment, or discrimination made without malice. Prevailing defendants in defamation actions related to privileged communication are entitled to various damages. This shift encourages prudence among alleged perpetrators contemplating defamation suits against those speaking out about workplace misconduct.
Workplace Violence Protections:
Senate Bill 553 mandates the implementation of a Workplace Violence Prevention Plan (WVPP) by July 1, 2024. Employers must maintain records, train employees, and can now seek temporary restraining orders on behalf of harassed employees. Employers should promptly adopt comprehensive WVPPs to comply with this law.
Enforcement of Arbitration Agreements:
Lastly, Senate Bill 365, effective January 1, 2024, removes the automatic stay of trial court proceedings when a litigant appeals a decision denying a motion to compel arbitration. This potentially leads to continued litigation in court while an appeal is pending, irrespective of an existing arbitration agreement.
With California's employment landscape set for a transformation in 2024, employers need to stay aware of these changes, promptly updating policies and practices to ensure compliance with the evolving legal framework. Seeking legal counsel is highly advised to navigate these changes effectively come the New Year.