Four Critical New Laws For California Employers in 2016

85Each new year brings challenges for employers and their Human Resources management, as a slew of new laws take effect, creating new traps for the unwary. 2016 is no exception. Here is a list of four new laws (or amendments) that can impact virtually every California employer.

The New Minimum Wage is $10.00

At first, this doesn’t seem like real news, as almost everyone has known the California minimum wage has been climbing since 2014. The information important to many employers, however, is the role the enhanced minimum wage plays in classification of salaried exempt vs. non-exempt employees.

Remember that an exempt employee in California must be paid a salary that is no less than two times the state minimum wage for full-time employment. Accordingly, as the state minimum wage increases from $9.00 to $10.00 per hour, the minimum annual salary for an exempt employee increases from $37,440 to $41,600. What you should do: Review compensation for all salaried exempt employees to ensure it equates to at least $41,600 annually.

Changes to Piece-Rate Compensation Requirements

Are some or all of your employees paid according to a piece-rate method? A business school definition of piece-rate compensation is: A wage determination system in which the employee is paid for each unit of production at a fixed rate. It is common in the automotive repair and garment industries, among others.

Assembly Bill 1513 added section 226.2 to the California Labor Code. It requires employers to pay piece-rate employees a separate hourly wage for “nonproductive” time, as well as “rest and recovery” periods. These hours and pay must be separately itemized on employees’ paystubs.

An additional challenge created by the new law relates to determination of the correct rate of pay. For “rest and recovery” breaks, employees must be paid the greater of (1) the minimum wage, or (2) the employee’s average hourly wage for all time worked (exclusive of break time) during the work week. For “nonproductive” time, the employee must receive at least minimum wage. What you should do: If you have employees paid on a piece-rate basis, make sure you understand and comply with the above. If not, contact your employment lawyer to get in compliance.

California Fair Pay Act

Senate Bill 358, amends California Labor Code Section 1197.5, which prohibits an employer from paying employees of one sex less than employees of the opposite sex for “substantially similar work.” Prior to the amendment, an employee seeking to prove unequal pay had to demonstrate that he or she was not being paid at the same rate as someone of the opposite sex at the same establishment for “equal work.” As amended, an employee need only show he or she is not being paid at the same rate for “substantially similar work” as measured by a composite of skill, effort and responsibility performed under similar working conditions.

Additionally, the amended law makes it unlawful for employers to prohibit employees from disclosing their wages to others, discussing their wages or inquiring about the wages of another employee. It also creates a new private cause of action whereby an employee may bring suit in court seeking reinstatement and reimbursement for discrimination or retaliation. What you should do: Audit your compensation structure to ensure both genders are paid equally for substantially similar work. Where changes are required, you may only increase the underpaid employee. Involve your employment lawyer if you need clarification or help.

Requesting Reasonable Accommodations is a Protected Activity

Assembly Bill 987 amends the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) to expand the protections for employees who request a reasonable accommodation for disabilities or religious beliefs, regardless whether the request is granted. This means that, once an employee has requested a reasonable accommodation for a disability or religious belief, the employer may not take an adverse employment action (i.e., discipline, reduction in hours or pay, termination) in retaliation for the accommodation request. What you should do: Be sensitive to an employee’s request for accommodation, even if s/he does not use the term “reasonable accommodation.” If an employee tells you (or you perceive) s/he is disabled or has a particular religious belief/preference that requires accommodation, take the situation seriously. It may be a good idea to consult with your employment counsel.

Conclusion

Employers should remain mindful of these changes as we embark upon a satisfying and, hopefully, productive new year!

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