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What’s Next for Labor and Employment Laws in California?
Monday, September 25, 2023

The 2023 California Legislative session, which ended on September 14, 2023, saw a flurry of activity on labor and employment-related laws. Governor Newsom has until October 14, 2023, to sign, veto, or pocket veto (i.e., take no action) on the bills sent for his signature. The following are bills to particularly keep an eye on — they all were passed in the final weeks of the session and are awaiting gubernatorial consideration. While Governor Newsom has until October 14, 2023, to sign, veto, or pocket the bills sent for his signature, we expect that most — if not all — of these measures will be signed into law.

SB 616: Increase in Minimum Number of Sick Days

Current state law sets the minimum number of paid sick days a full-time employee may accrue at three days/24 hours (absent separate local ordinances). This bill would increase the minimum number of annual sick days to five days/40 hours for full-time employees. This bill would also increase the accrual cap from six days/48 hours to 10 days/80 hours. The reasons an employee may use sick leave will not change.

SB 497: Presumption of Retaliation

This bill mandates a presumption of illegal retaliation if an employer takes particular disciplinary actions against an employee who has made a wage claim or complaint within the prior 90 days. Employers may rebut this presumption by showing a legitimate, nonretaliatory reason for the disciplinary action. This bill also would set a penalty not exceeding $10,000 per employee for each violation of the retaliation law, in addition to other remedies available.

SB 525: Minimum Wage for Health Care Workers

After extensive negotiations between labor and the health care industry, this bill will gradually raise the minimum wage for workers in health care facilities to $25 per hour over the next several years. The rate of the raise varies based on the size of facility, ranging from large health facilities and clinics moving to $23 per hour in 2024 ($25 per hour in 2026) to other health facilities moving to $21 per hour in 2024 ($25 per hour in 2027 for community clinics and in 2028 for other facilities). Facilities with a large percentage of Medicare and Medicaid patients, rural independent hospitals, and small county facilities will start the increase in minimum wage at $18 per hour in 2024, and increase 3.5% annually through 2033. 

The definition of health care employee in this bill is broad, and does not only include direct patient care roles like “nurse, physician, caregiver, medical resident, intern or fellow, and patient care technician,” but also includes positions such as “janitor, housekeeping staff person, groundskeeper, guard, clerical worker, nonmanagerial administrative worker, food service worker, gift shop worker, technical and ancillary services worker, medical coding and medical billing personnel, scheduler, call center and warehouse worker, and laundry worker, regardless of formal job title.”

The Department of Health Care Access and Information will publish health care facility classification.  Notably, this bill will preempt city or county (including charter cities and counties) ordinances enacted or taking effect after September 6, 2023, until January 1, 2024, that specifically apply to health care workers (but does not apply to nonindustry-specific minimum wage ordinances).

AB 1228: Minimum Wage for Fast Food Workers

Also revised as a result of extensive negotiations, this bill will raise the hourly minimum wage for fast food restaurant employees who work at chains with at least 60 locations nationwide to $20 per hour as of April 1, 2024. From 2025 to 2029, a Fast Food Council has the authority to annually the minimum wage at either 3.5% of the annual change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is lower. The Fast Food Council will be made up of members of the fast food industry, fast food workers, and a neutral chair.  Importantly, this bill will bar cities and counties (including charter cities and counties) from setting a separate minimum wage for the fast food industry (but does not preempt ordinances that are generally applicable to all industries).

AB 1356: Cal-WARN Changes

This bill would expand the number of days’ notice an employer must give to prior to a mass layoff, relocation, or termination at a covered establishment from 60 days to 75 days. Under California law, a mass layoff includes the layoff of 50 or more employees at a single location within a 30-day period.

FEHA Discrimination Bills

Finally, several bills awaiting Governor Newsom’s signature would expand the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) discrimination prohibitions.

  • SB 731: This bill would add a section to the FEHA, mandating that an employer provide at least 30 calendar days’ advanced notice before requiring an employee who works from home to return to work in person. The notice must include specific text that provides information related to reasonable accommodation in the form of remote work for employees with disabilities.
  • SB 848: This bill would prohibit an employer from refusing to grant bereavement leave to an employee for reproductive loss.
  • AB 524: This bill would prohibit employment discrimination on account of family caregiver status. Family caregiver status is defined as a person “who provides direct care to a spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, domestic partner, or, with respect to an existing employee, any individual previously identified by the employee as a ‘designated person.’”
  • SB 700: This bill would prohibit employment discrimination for an employee’s or applicant’s use of cannabis off the job and away from the workplace. The employer would only be able to consider or inquire about cannabis use if permitted under other state or federal law.
  • SB 403: This bill would prohibit discrimination based on ancestry, which is defined to include, among other things, caste.
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