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What New Employment Laws Are Coming in 2021?

Starting on January 1, 2021, new employment laws or changes to existing laws are taking place. Workers should know what laws apply to their situation. Many of these new California laws offer additional protection if they need to take time off to care for a child, parent, spouse, or partner. Employers should pay attention to make sure they’re not accidentally violating one of the new laws.

Find out what new laws are coming out in 2021. They range from wage increases to new rules regarding rehiring former employees. Extensions to family leave are also part of the new 2021 California employment laws. Some may apply to you or the small business you work for, so it’s best to familiarize yourself now.

CFRA Expansions

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) requires companies with 50 or more employees to grant up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for themselves, a new child, or a spouse. Effective January 1st, companies with five or more employers have to abide by that rule.

SB 1383 extends this so that both parents each get 12 weeks of unpaid leave to take off after the birth or adoption of a child. If the mother and father work for the same employer, the new mom could take the first 12 weeks off and the father could follow after that with another 12 weeks ensuring that the newborn has a parent home for the first six months of his or her life. To qualify, employees must have worked for at least 1,250 hours in the past year.

Changes to “No Rehire” Rules

Many companies have “No Rehire” policies in place when it comes to settlement agreements. AB 2143 amends this to protect people who leave a job due to a sexual assault or sexual harassment complaint. If the company took preventative measures (“documented and in good-faith”) to keep an employee from leaving his or her job, the “no rehire” exception can stand. If they didn’t, they cannot refuse to rehire the employee.

For example, a worker is being sexually harassed and reports it to their boss. The boss doesn’t take action and the worker feels that quitting is the best course of action for now. That worker is told that they cannot be rehired because they quit. Because the company didn’t act in good faith or document the complaint, they cannot refuse to rehire that worker.

COVID-19 Imminent Hazard Protection

AB 685 is an expansion of workplace hazard protections. As soon as a company learns that they have an employer sick with COVID-19, all other employees who may have been exposed must be alerted within one business day. This has to be done while also protecting the sick employee or contractor/subcontractor’s identity. The employer must provide information on benefits available while employees are tested and undergo self-quarantines if needed.

Records would need to be kept available for three years, and the State Department of Health has to be notified so that the information could be made available to the public. Fines of up to $10,000 for failing to notify employees could be levied against companies.

Crime Victim Protections

If a worker needs to take time off due to a crime such as stalking, sexual assault, or domestic violence, AB 2992 protects that person from being fired or demoted for taking unscheduled time off for court hearings, medical treatments, counseling, etc. It also protects workers who are taking time off to assist a child who is a victim providing the worker is that child’s advocate, parent, or guardian.

If a mother learns her child’s daycare worker has been abusing her child, she can take time off to advocate for her child’s welfare. Her employer cannot refuse to keep her job open and tell her to get back to work or else. The same would be true of a man who is being stalked by an ex and fears for his safety traveling to work. He’s allowed time off for court hearings and protective orders to go through.

Employee Sick Leave for Family Care

Currently, employees can use sick leave to take care of a family member without the risk of an employer taking action against them. With AB 2017, it’s now at the employee’s discretion whether to use some or all of the sick leave that would typically be accrued during six months of employment. The employer cannot threaten to terminate, demote, or suspend the employee’s position for the time taken to care for a family member.

If an employee learns his mother has Alzheimer’s and needs around-the-clock care, he can use as much sick pay as he has available to take time off to be with her until other arrangements can be made. His employer cannot tell him to get to work or he loses his job.

Get a Year to File Workplace Complaints

With AB 1947, employees now have a full year to file complaints against their employer. In some cases, the courts may decide to extend that year to even longer. If the court finds for the employee for matters like retaliation or other violations of Labor Codes, the court can also award the attorney’s fees to the employee who filed the complaint (aka whistleblowers). If the company refuses to comply with a court order, fines of up to $100 per day (up to $20,000) may be awarded.

Minimum Wage Increase

Yearly increases to the minimum wage began back in 2017. Starting in January 2021, the minimum wage in much of California is $14 an hour starting on January 1st. There are some exceptions. If a company has 25 or fewer employees, the minimum wage is $13.

Some cities have set local minimum wage scales that exceed the state’s minimum wage. For example, several cities have minimum wage levels of $15 or more. Alameda, Daly City, Half Moon Bay, Los Angeles, and Malibu are a handful that will start the $15 minimum wage on January 1st. Some cities exceed it. Mountain View and Sunnyvale increase the minimum wage to $16.05. Berkeley and San Francisco go to $16.07 on January 1st. Emeryville is the highest at $16.84. In addition, several cities use the consumer price index (CPI) to add additional compensation halfway through the year.

Paid Family Leave Changes

Changes are being made to Paid Family Leave laws thanks to AB 2399. The changes expand paid family leave to cover leave taken due to calls of active duty or to cover for a spouse, partner, child, or parent of that worker who is on active duty.

Representation for Financially-Challenged Workers

SB 1384 requires the Labor Commissioner to represent employees who cannot afford representation if their workplace complaint goes into arbitration. Workers no longer have to worry about how they’ll pay for legal representation if their employer decides to fight the complaint.

Are you concerned you’re not being paid as much as you should? Has your employer failed to meet some of the new laws leaving you worried that you’re not being treated fairly? Were you terminated from a job when you feel you were entitled to take unpaid time off to deal with a medical issue? Get an expert opinion to see if you were treated unfairly or if your employee’s actions were just.

Give Shegerian Conniff a call and see if you have a valid complaint. Consultations are free, so there’s no risk involved in finding out what your rights are as a California employee or contract worker.

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