S.E. Williams | Executive Editor
“The backbone of any improvement of governance, its development as well as its protection from any form of wastage or excessiveness, is a mechanism to place laws under the microscope of revision and modernization. . .”
– Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
As residents of the coronavirus-weary inland region prepare to exit 2020 and enter a new year, it is also time to review a sampling of new laws taking effect in California intended to serve as guardrails for individual, municipal, employer, employee and/or corporate behaviors in 2021 and beyond.
In a law-and-order nation like the United States, it is not surprising the country has more laws and regulations than any other nation on Earth. However, it may surprise some to learn California leads America with more regulations than any other state.
Once again, the California state legislature was busy in 2020 debating and voting, up or down, on hundreds of new bills. Many were signed into law and will affect inland area workers and their families in the coming years.
The new laws soon to impact daily life include some changes in the motor vehicle code to laws addressing the ever-present threat of wildfires and their impact on thousands of residents in the state from a changing climate. 2020 legislative priorities also encompassed measures aimed at addressing, policing, criminal justice and other issues tied to systemic racism.
News laws also cover a wide range of worker related issues including the establishment of minimum protections companies must provide to protect their employees from COVID-19, to how much time employees can take off to care for loved ones, to the need for corporations to include a representative number of minorities on their boards of directors.
Here are a few examples among the hundreds of laws considered this year that will be effective Jan. 1, 2021. Background information on each piece of legislation can be found by following the link associated with each bill.
AB 685: Employee “Right To Know”
Employers are now required to notify employees and the public of a potential workplace COVID-19 exposure within a day. Employees must be notified in writing, inform them of their benefits and rights, and provide a comprehensive plan for disinfection. The company also has 48 hours to notify the local public health agency of a workplace outbreak. Those who fail to comply risk major penalties. Cal-OSHA is also authorized to close workplaces that pose a hazard to employees due to COVID-19.
AB 979: Minority Board Representation
California is pushing for greater diversity by now requiring corporate boards in addition to women, to also have at least one board member from an unrepresented community, self-identifying as Black, African American, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Native Hawaiian or Alaska Native, or gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
AB 1947: Extension of Time to File Labor Commissioner Complaints
The window for employees to file complaints with the Labor Commissioner for claims of discrimination or termination in violation of Labor Code provisions enforced by the Labor Commissioner is expanded to one year instead of the current six months.
AB 2017: Kin Care Leave
Replaces previous law that limited employees’ use of their annual accrual of employer-provided sick leave for “kin care” (family) reasons to half. It is now up to an employee’s sole discretion as to how much of the accrued time they choose to use for this purpose.
AB 2257: More Dynamex Exemptions (Amends AB 5)
The categories of exemptions from the “Dynamex” independent contractor classification test are expanded to include the elimination of the annual 35-submission limit for freelancer writers, editors, newspaper cartoonists, still photographers, and photojournalists and also includes exceptions for others like the various jobs tied to the music industry.
SB 1383: Family Rights Act
Family leave protections are extended to employees at smaller businesses and the list of loved ones now qualified for protected family leave is expanded. Any business with five or more employees is now required to let their employees allow them to take family leave to care for grandparents, grandchildren, and siblings in addition to spouse, a registered domestic partner, child, or parent. Lastly, it provides leave related to active duty of a worker’s spouse, registered domestic partner, child, or parent.
AB 1512: On-Call Rest Breaks/Security Industry
This law applies to those in the security services industry only. It amends the state’s rest break law to allow unionized security guards to remain on-call during their rest breaks. This new law repeals the California Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling in Augustus v. ABM Security Services that prohibited on-call rest breaks for covered employees.
AB 2143: No Rehire Provisions/Settlement Agreements
Last year, passed a law which prohibited the inclusion of a no rehire provision in settlement agreements of employment disputes. Next year modest revisions to the law will include an exception for employees found to have engaged in criminal conduct.
AB 3075: Statements of Information
The Secretary of State is now required to disclose—by posting a notice of the certification on the homepage of its internet website—information regarding any officer or director of the company with an outstanding final judgment for his/her violation of any wage order or provision of the Labor Code.
SB 973: Pay Data Reporting
Private employers with 100 or more employees are now required to submit a pay data report to California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) by March 31, 2021 and each year thereafter.
SB-1384: Labor Commissioner’s Representation of Financially Disabled Persons
The Labor Commissioner’s representation to arbitrations for claimants is expanded to include individuals who cannot afford counsel. It requires employers to serve petitions to compel arbitration on the Labor Commissioner and allows him/her to represent claimants in proceedings to determine whether arbitration agreements are enforceable.
Other COVID-19 Related Measures
AB 1867: Supplemental COVID Sick Leave
Requires private employers with more than 500 employees, to provide up to 80 hours of supplemental paid sick leave to employees to use for specified COVID purposes. This law is already in effect.
AB 2537: Acute Care Hospitals/PPE
Public and private employers of acute care hospital workers must provide employees responsible for direct patient care with all personal protective equipment (PPE) warranted to comply with federal/state regulations and requires employers to ensure the employees use it. Finally, the employers are also required to maintain a minimum 3-month supply of required PPE equipment.
SB 1159: COVID Workers’ Compensation Coverage
Already in effect, this law extended the presumption of workers’ compensation coverage for COVID illnesses contracted by certain employees working outside the home and established new COVID-19 reporting requirements for employers.
Motor Vehicle Rules and Regulations
AB 2285: Move Over, Slow Down Law
Any motorists whether on the freeway (already required) or on the streets (new) who approach a stopped emergency vehicle flashing its lights, are required to proceed with caution and move to another lane whenever possible.
AB 2717: Motor Vehicles Unattended Children’s Liability
Anyone who rescues an endangered child left in an unattended vehicle is now exempted from both criminal or civil liability for trespassing or car damage, provided they adhere to the following—the child being rescued or endangers is under the age of 7 and has been left unattended in a vehicle under dangerous conditions that reasonably could cause suffering, disability or death. This can include heat, cold and/or a lack of ventilation.
SB 909: Hi-Lo Evacuation Warning Sound
Emergency vehicles can now use a “Hi-Lo” warning sound to notify the public of evacuations in the event of an emergency—local enforcement agencies can use the sound, provided they obtain a permit from the California Highway Patrol.
Consumer Protections, Victims Rights and Criminal Justice
AB 1281: California Consumer Privacy Act
Although the bill extended the employer exemption from certain provisions of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) to Jan. 1, 2022, employers must still comply with the provision of CCPA requiring them to provide notice to applicants/employees of personal information collected and the purposes for which it is used.
AB 2147: Expunged Records For Inmate Firefighters
Inmates who work in prison fire camps are now given a chance to have their records expunged upon release. The law is designed to reward their service by making it easier for them to find employment upon release including among the ranks of professional firefighters.
AB 2992: Expanded Protections/Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault
Current law which includes employment protections and rights to time off work for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and/or stalking, is expanded to include victims of crime or abuse.
Seeking a New Way Forward
AB 3121: Slavery Reparations
Establishes a new taskforce to study and consider the possibility of reparations to the descendants of slaves by studying the history of slavery in California and its impact on the descendants of those slaves across generations. It will not only hold hearings, it is also empowered to compel testimony and evidence.
S.E. Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News.