New California Employment Laws for 2016

A number of employment-related bills came out of the 2015 California Legislative session. The following bills represent just a few summary highlights from the session.

Fair Pay Act

SB 358

The California Chamber of Commerce supported Senate Bill 358 (Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson), a bill to promote gender wage equity. The Fair Pay Act addresses two main issues – salary disclosure and how determinations of gender pay disparities are viewed.

Pursuant to the Act, employees cannot be punished for either revealing or discussing wages with other employees. The more significant change relates to the components used to determine whether a pay differential between employees of the “opposite sex” is justified or if it constitutes gender wage discrimination. While wage differentials based on seniority, merit or production remain acceptable, the “bona fide factor other than sex” exception has been tightened. The law now requires a comparison of persons doing “substantially similar” work, which means that different job titles and different work sites are less relevant in the evaluation of wage differentials. This will require many employers to reevaluate how they determine compensation throughout their company.

The onus will be on the employer to show there is a bona fide business necessity reason, other than sex, for paying a person of the opposite sex differently for substantially similar work. The employee then has the ability to void the employer’s justification if the employee can show that an alternative business practice exists where a sex-based wage differential would not exist.

Time off

AB 304

The California mandatory paid sick leave law (the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014) went into effect on January 1, 2015. Accrual under the law was delayed, and did not begin until July 1, 2015. AB 304 (Gonzalez) was an urgency measure amending the sick leave law and changing various requirements, including accrual methods. The amendment provides clarification regarding which workers are covered, how the paid time off is accrued, and protections for employers that already provided paid sick leave before January 1, 2015.

AB 987

Employers generally must make reasonable accommodations for the religious beliefs and/or any disability of their employees pursuant to the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). AB 987 (Levine) codifies that employers may not discriminate or retaliate against employees for making a request for an accommodation due to religion or disability, even if the request is not granted.

SB 579

SB 579 (Jackson) requires that employers with 25 or more employees (at the same location) allow an employee time off (up to 8 hours in any calendar month) to find, enroll or re-enroll their child in school or day care, or to participate in activities of the school or day care, or to deal with a child care or school emergency.

Wage and Hour

AB 970

AB 970 (Nazarian) expands the Labor Commissioner’s authority by authorizing the Labor Commissioner to investigate and, upon a request from the local entity, to enforce local laws regarding overtime hours or minimum wage provisions (e.g., city minimum wage ordinances setting the minimum wage for workers in that city higher than the State minimum wage) and to issue citations and penalties for violations, except when the local entity has already issued a citation for the same violation.

AB 1506

Employee wage statements must contain certain information under California law. Statements that fail to include all the required information have subjected employers to increasingly frequent lawsuits by employees under the Private Attorney General Act (PAGA). PAGA permits employees to pursue such violations on behalf of the State. AB 1506 (R. Hernandez) amends PAGA to allow employers to correct wage statements that do not contain the inclusive dates of the pay period and/or the name and address of the employer, which are statutorily required to appear on the wage statements. In order to fix the omission(s), employers must provide three years’ worth of fully-compliant wage statements for each pay period.

SB 327

SB 327 (E. Hernandez) responds to a recent appellate court decision and clarifies that health care employee meal period waiver provisions in existing Industrial Welfare Commission wage orders have been valid and enforceable since October 1, 2000 (e.g., health care employees can waive 1 of their 2 meal periods when their shifts are longer than 12 hours).

AB 622

E-Verify is an internet-based system for employers to check the employment authorization status of their employees. AB 622 (R. Hernandez) prohibits employers from using E-Verify in a manner inconsistent with federal law and creates financial civil penalties for employers who maliciously use E-Verify against their workforce.


By: Shannon Smith-Crowley

Legislative Advocate –

Shannon Smith-Crowley is an attorney and has been a registered lobbyist in California for over 15 years. On behalf of her clients, Shannon attained a series of legislative successes. She helped develop California law that requires maternity coverage in all health insurance policies, well before the enactment of similar provisions in the Affordable Care Act. She worked on bills creating California’s public umbilical cord blood banking program, which provides unique material for lifesaving stem cell transplants and groundbreaking biomedical research. She contributed to bills allowing HIV+ men to safely create families using Assisted Reproductive Technologies. Most recently she played a pivotal role in developing the Modern Family Act, protecting the rights of intended parents, donors and surrogates.