The Senate passed a historic piece of gay rights legislation that would ban workplace discrimination against gay and transgender employees. A 64-32 vote, the passage of this legislation marks another milestone victory for the gay rights movement in America.

 

The 64 to 32 vote to approve the Employment Non-Discrimination Act marked the first time federal lawmakers had approved legislation to advance gay rights since repealing the military’s ban on gay men and lesbians in uniform in late 2010. Approval of the measure came two days after Illinois became the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage and four months after the U.S. Supreme Court sanctioned federal recognition of legally married gay couples.

In October 2013, Governor Brown signed several significant bills that increase and protect the earnings of low-wage and immigrant workers.  After years of stagnation and prior unsuccessful attempts, the state minimum wage will finally see an increase after the approval of AB 10 (Asm. Alejo).  The new law raises the $8 an hour minimum wage to $9 an hour, effective July 1, 2014, and from $9 an hour to $10 an hour, effective Jan. 1, 2016.

Domestic workers will also see an increase in wages after scoring a historic victory with AB 241 (Asm. Ammiano), known as the “Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.”  This law mandates overtime compensation for domestic workers in California who work over 9 hours in a day and over 45 hours in a week.

Bills to protect wages were also a highlight of this year’s legislative session.  SB 496 (Sen. Monning), signed by the Governor this year, makes it easier for workers to pursue a claim for unpaid wages by eliminating the threat of potentially ruinous liability if they ultimately do not succeed on their claim.

Car wash workers gained much-needed protections when Governor Brown eliminated the sunset date on one of the most effective tools for combating wage theft in the car wash industry.  AB 1387 (Asm. Hernandez) now permanently requires car washes to register and obtain a bond to fund an account for car wash workers who cannot collect their wages.

The Fair Paycheck Act, which would have helped all workers collect their unpaid wages, unfortunately suffered a defeat this year due to heavy lobbying by special interest groups in big business and banking.  This bill would have authorized an employee to record and enforce a wage lien upon an employer’s property.  Though unsuccessful, the Fair Paycheck campaign, led by a broad coalition of low wage worker advocates, will continue to fight and will make another legislative attempt next year.

AB 263 (Asm. Hernandez) and SB 666 (Sen. Steinberg) constitute a huge victory for low wage and immigrant workers. These bills protect and promote the rights of immigrant workers who suffer from pervasive abuse in the workplace.  The bills help workers assert their rights by clarifying that retaliation protected under Labor Code 98.6 broadly includes any adverse actions (including threats of deportation).  Additionally, these bills clarify that workers do not have to go through the cumbersome process of filing administrative complaints unless the Labor Code expressly requires it.  Another immigrant workers’ rights bill signed this year, AB 524 (Asm. Mullin), makes it a crime for employers or their attorneys to use threats of deportation to exploit immigrant workers.

Whistleblowers also receive some added protection under SB 496 (Sen. Wright), which expands Labor Code 1102.5 to cover workers who are preemptively fired before they can report any wrongdoing and to cover a broader range of disclosures.

SB 770 (Sen. Jackson) was the only family care bill signed by the Governor into law.  This bill expands the Paid Family Leave Program to provide wage replacement for workers taking care of seriously ill grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, and parents-in-law.

Governor Brown also signed several bills to help strengthen California’s workplace anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws.  He also signed bills that expand workplace protections for veterans and those in the military. Significantly, SB 400 not only prohibits discrimination against victims of domestic violence, it also requires employers to provide victims with reasonable accommodations.  The Governor also approved SB 292 (Sen. Corbett), which strengthens sexual harassment protections, particularly with same-sex harassment, by clarifying that harassing conduct need not be motivated by sexual desire.

Former offenders will also find some added protections and help securing employment with the approval of AB 218 (Asm. Dickinson).  This new law prohibits state and local agencies from asking an applicant to disclose information regarding a criminal conviction until after the agency has first determined whether the applicant meets minimum qualifications for the position.

All of the bills signed this year will take effect January 1st of 2014 and represent huge victories for workers and working families in California.

As of today, the Governor has signed 8 significant employment-related bills into law, covering:

 

Minimum wage increase, from $8 to $10/hour, over two years

Change in definition of sexual harassment to provide broader protection for employees

Recovery of defense attorney’s fees in wage claims only if bad faith

Expansion of coverage of Paid Family Leave

Mandatory overtime for domestic workers who work over 9 hours/day or 45 hours/week

Criminal background checks for youth sports leaders

Employment contracts for minor actors

New penalties for violation of posting requirements for garment manufacturers

 

To view the signed bills, as well as the passed bills awaiting Governor Brown’s action, as well as failed bills, click here.  Governor Brown has until October 13 to act on bills awaiting signature. If you have questions on how these bills affect your rights, give us a call today.

On October 5, 2013, Governor Brown signed SB 666 (Steinberg) into law. SB 666 does the following:

It overturns MacDonald v. State of California (discussed here), in which the Court of Appeal held that an employee must exhaust the administrative remedy set forth in Labor Code section 98.7 before pursuing a civil claim for retaliatory discharge or wrongful termination in violation of Labor Code section 1102.5 and retaliatory and discriminatory discharge in violation of Labor Code section 6310.

 

Significantly, the new law also makes it clear that an employer who retaliates or takes adverse action against any employee or applicant for employment because he or she has engaged in protected conduct may be subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per violation.

 

The law also subjects attorneys to discipline for reporting or threatening to report the suspected immigration status of a witness or party to a civil or administrative action or his or her family member, to a federal, state, or local agency because the witness or party exercises or has exercised a right related to his or her employment. It also subjects certain licensed professionals and businesses to license suspension or revocation if the Labor Commissioner or a court determines that they have violated certain provisions of California law.

 
Further information on SB 666, including the text of the bill, is available here.


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