The California state legislative offices in Sacramento, Calif., on Aug. 29, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
A new year brings a number of changes to employment laws in California, many that took effect Jan. 1 and others slated for later this year.
Paid Sick Leave
Senate Bill 616 increases the amount of accrued paid sick leave for full-time employees from three days a year to five while raising the existing cap on accrued time from six days to ten hours. Employers are not required to pay out unused sick time.
Bereavement leave has also been expanded to include reproductive loss—defined as stillbirth, miscarriage, failed adoption, assisted reproduction, or surrogacy—by Senate Bill 848, introduced by Sen. Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park). Employers must now provide up to five days’ leave for employees who experience such an event.
Noncompete Clauses Now Illegal
Noncompete clauses are now a thing of the past. Such are used by employers to prevent employees from taking work at a competitor. Employers have until Feb. 14 to notify current employees that any signed such agreements are no longer valid.
While the clauses were deemed unenforceable by prior court decisions, two new bills, one from the state Senate and another from the Assembly, codify the law and make it a civil penalty to ask new employees to sign such agreements.
The text of the Assembly bill argues that such is necessary because noncompete clauses inhibit economic opportunities in the state and stifle companies’ ability to attract talent.
Cannabis Users Protected
Two laws focus on off-the-clock cannabis use, including Sen. Steven Bradford’s (D-Gardena) Senate Bill 700, which restricts employers from inquiring about a candidate’s prior cannabis use.
Though hotly contested in the Legislature, Assembly Bill 2188—introduced by former Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) and signed into law in 2022—took effect Jan. 1 and defines pre-employment cannabis screening.
Employers are now prevented from discriminating against applicants who test positive for non-psychoactive—meaning the person is not intoxicated but shows signs of prior use—cannabis compounds.
As such tests can identify the drug up to a month after use, supporters say the new law is needed to protect users, while critics say the new regulation creates potential legal liability for employers.
Some are concerned that by amending the Fair Employment and Housing Act—enacted in 1959 to protect civil rights—the measure creates a protected status for cannabis users like race and religion protections.
“Put simply: marijuana use is not the same as protecting workers against discrimination based on race or national origin...,” the California Chamber of Commerce wrote in a September 2022 letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom requesting a veto of the bill. “We do not believe marijuana should be elevated to a legally-protected status above comparable drugs (like alcohol).”
The new law does not apply to employees in the construction trade or positions that require federal background investigations.
Furthermore, candidates that test positive for psychoactive compounds—meaning the individual is under the influence—can be eliminated from consideration, and employers would be allowed to maintain a drug- and alcohol-free workplace.
Workplace Violence Plan Now Required
Seeking to minimize violence on the job, Senate Bill 553 takes effect July 1 and requires employers to create and implement an “effective workplace violence prevention plan.”
Such can be integrated into existing illness and injury plans—required by law—or maintained separately. Training and comprehensive recordkeeping of any related incidents are mandatory.
Minimum Wage Increases
Industry-specific laws impacting companies in 2024 include wage increases for healthcare and fast-food employees.
Complex regulations for healthcare employers take effect this year in a tiered implementation schedule laid out by Senate Bill 525. Minimum wages for all employees, including janitors, will be set at $25 an hour, with gradual increases of varied amounts depending on the size of the organization.
Fast-food employees will earn at least $20 an hour starting April 1, with annual increases of no more than 3.5 percent scheduled through 2029, according to Assembly Bill 1228.
While the law is yet to take effect, some restaurants are reducing the size of their workforce—including Pizza Hut, which is set to lay off more than a thousand delivery drivers this year—or considering price increases, such as McDonald’s and Chipotle, to prepare for the new measure.
Also affecting restaurants is Senate Bill 476, which requires employers to cover food handler safety certification costs and pay for employees’ time spent attending training and tests.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the author of Assembly Bill 2188 passed in 2022. The Epoch Times regrets the error.