Flurry of California employment laws take effect Jan. 1

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed nearly two dozen labor and employment bills in 2020, many of which go into effect on New Year’s Day.

Some laws are in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, while others expand reporting deadlines and leave protections and rights for those working for large and small businesses.

Coronavirus protections for workers

While vaccines are approved and being administered to Americans, the COVID-19 crisis will likely impact the state for months to come. California lawmakers approved these measures to protect workers from the impact of the virus:

  • Assembly Bill 685: Establishes strict guidelines for companies to notify employees within 24 hours of potential COVID-19 exposure. Employers must also notify local health officials within 48 hours of an outbreak.
  • Senate Bill 1159: Expands workers’ compensation benefits for healthcare workers, first responders and other employees who test positive for COVID-19 within two weeks of a workplace outbreak.

Bills expanding leave opportunities

Two new laws will impact thousands of California workers extending rights already in place for others:

  • Senate Bill 1383: Expands the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) to include employers with five employees or fewer, requiring them to offer 12 weeks of CFRA leave as long as workers provide enough notice and qualify for leave benefits. The bill also expands leave options for those caring for grandparents, grandchildren or siblings.
  • Assembly Bill 2017: Clarifies that employees can designate sick leave for “kin care.” This aims to prevent designation errors by employers who cannot drain kin care hours for employees who previously took personal sick leave for these absences.

Expanded reporting deadline and minimum wage increase

Assembly Bill 1947 amends California’s Labor Code by extending the period that workers can file complaints, such as over discrimination or wage violations, with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) from six months to one year. The new law also allows courts to award “reasonable” attorney fees to whistleblowers.

Also, the next phase of California’s statewide minimum wage increase goes into effect on New Year’s when the wage rises to $14 per hour for those working at companies with 26 employees or more. Businesses with 25 or fewer employees must pay a minimum wage of $13 per hour starting Jan. 1. Many cities and counties have enacted their own minimum wage requirements, for which employers must comply.

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