The previous blog covered several of the most important new employment laws for 2012 that could affect your day-to-day operations. Today's blog discusses additional employment related legislation for 2012 that may affect your business, including Workers' Compensation Legislation. Many of the new laws discussed in this edition relate to specific industries.
AB 1236 relates to the E-verify program; a federally created program that allows employers to use an Internet-based system to electronically verify the employment eligibility of newly hired employees. E-Verify compares Form I-9 documentation against federal government databases to verify employees’ employment eligibility.
AB 1236 allows employers to continue to choose to use E-Verify, but prohibits California state agencies and local governments from passing mandates that require employers to use E-Verify.
Several cities in California passed local ordinances requiring the use of E-Verify in certain circumstances. For example, a Mission Viejo city ordinance requires the city and certain employers with city contracts to verify the eligibility of new employees through E-Verify. This new law prohibits such state or local mandates, unless required by federal law or as a condition of receiving federal funds.
Interference With Rights Under Leave Laws
AB 592 adds language to the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and the Pregnancy Disability Leave law (PDL) that makes it unlawful to interfere with or in any way restrain the exercise of rights under these laws. This added language should not be a change to existing employer obligations since this is already a requirement under the federal Family Medical Leave Act.
AB 240 allows an employee that alleges a minimum wage violation to recover liquidated damages pursuant to any complaint brought before the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. Existing law allows such damages in any complaint before a civil court, but not in an administrative proceeding before the Labor Commissioner. This new law allows the Labor Commissioner to also award such damages. Under the new liquidated damages provision, the employee will be entitled to recover an amount equal to twice the wages unlawfully unpaid, plus interest.
AB 551 increases the maximum penalty from $50 to $200 per calendar day for each worker paid less than the determined prevailing wage and increases the minimum penalty from $10 to $40 per day for violations of prevailing wage obligations. These obligations apply to certain state or federal contracts and generally require a set wage that is significantly higher than minimum wage.
It also increases the penalty from $25 to $100 per calendar day, per worker, against contractors and subcontractors that fail to respond to a written request for payroll records within 10 days.
Insurance Non-Discrimination Act
Existing California law requires health care service plans and health insurance policies to provide group coverage to the registered domestic partner of the employee or insured equal to the coverage provided to the spouses of employees. SB 757 closes an existing loophole and prevents employers that operate in multiple states from discriminating against same-sex couples by not providing the same insurance coverage for domestic partners as they do for spouses.
The new law provides that every group health care service plan contract and every group health insurance policy that is marketed, issued, or delivered to a California resident is subject to the requirement to provide equal coverage to domestic partners as is provided to spouses, notwithstanding any other provision of law. Under the new law, even if the employer’s principal place of business and majority of employees are located outside of California, no policy or certificate of health insurance marketed, issued or delivered to a California resident shall discriminate between spouses or domestic partners of a different sex and spouses or domestic partners of a same sex.
A willful violation of this provision by a health care service plan is a crime.
State Contracts - Gender or Sexual Orientation Discrimination
SB 117 outlaws the state of California from entering into contracts of more than $100,000 with companies that discriminate against the employees on the basis of gender or sexual orientation with regard to benefits. Existing law prohibits discrimination between employees with spouses and employees with domestic partners. The new law makes it clear that companies doing business with the state of California cannot deny equal benefits to same-sex spouses.
SB 56 changes the audit requirements for apprenticeship programs. Currently, the Division of Apprenticeship Standards within the Department of Industrial Relations is required to randomly audit all apprenticeship programs during each five-year period to ensure compliance with specified requirements, including industry-specific training criteria. This new law eliminates the mandate of random audits during five-year increments, and instead directs the Division to conduct audits of apprenticeship programs generally. It also creates requirements for applications for building and construction trades programs for approval of a new or expanded apprenticeship program.
Safe Lifting - Hospitals
AB 1136 provides that general acute care hospitals must maintain a safe patient handling policy for patient care units, including trained lift teams or training in safe lifting techniques for staff. The safe patient handling policy must be kept in accordance with the California Occupational Safety and Health Act and should be part of the Injury Illness and Prevention Program (IIPP) of these specific employers.
Farm Labor Contractors - Wage Notices
AB 243 amends Labor Code section 226 to expand the information that must be included on pay statements, but only for farm labor contractors. Employers that are farm labor contractors must now disclose on the itemized payroll statement furnished to their employees, the name and address of all legal entities (for example other growers or other farm labor contractors) that secured the employer’s services. The bill provides that this listing would not create any legal liability on the part of the legal entity.
Agricultural Labor Relations
SB 126 affects certification of bargaining representatives for agricultural employees. Existing California law prohibits agricultural employers from engaging in unfair labor practices with regard to agricultural employees electing their labor representatives. Under current law, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) can refuse to certify an election if it determines that employer misconduct affected the election result.
The new law, SB 126, provides that if the ALRB finds employer misconduct that “in addition to affecting the outcome of the election, would render slight the chances of a new election reflecting the free and fair choice of employees,” then the ALRB can certify the labor union as the exclusive bargaining agent for employees.
Workers' Compensation Legislation
The governor signed five workers’ compensation bills that were supported by CalChamber.
- AB 335 - Lowers Frictional Costs in Workers' Compensation — Brings an estimated savings of $42 million to the workers’ compensation system by requiring the workers’ compensation administrative director (AD) to work with the Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation (CHSWC) to develop regulations regarding notices to injured workers; requires AD and CHSWC to develop and make accessible a booklet written in plain language about the workers’ comp claims process; streamlines and simplifies other notices to employees.
The new law also states that workers’ compensation notices posted by employers must now include the website address and contact information that employees may use to obtain further information about the workers’ compensation claims process and an injured employee’s rights and obligations, including the location and telephone number of the nearest information and assistance officer. The administrative director is required to make available on the department’s website informational material regarding the workers’ compensation claims process, written in plain English.
- AB 378 - Lowers Pharmaceutical Costs: Lowers workers’ compensation costs by establishing guidelines for dispensing compound drugs, the circumstances under which those drugs would be covered and the reimbursement amount, and removes the incentives for physicians to refer patients to pharmacies in which the physician or physician's family has a financial interest.
- AB 397 - Ensures Contractors Have Coverage: Seeks to address the underground economy problem by singling out contractors that do not have workers’ compensation coverage but requiring contractors that are exempt from having coverage at the time they are licensed to certify they are still exempt or have gotten coverage at the time of their license renewal.
- AB 1168 - Contains Workers' Compensation Costs: Lowers costs for employers and insurers by establishing a fee schedule for vocational experts' services.
- AB 1426 - Streamlines Workers’ Comp System: Streamlines the workers’ comp process and eliminates duplicative bureaucracy and inconsistency by eliminating the court administrator position.
The governor also signed a workers' compensation related bill that the CalChamber took no position on:
- AB 228 - Out-of-State Workers’ Compensation Coverage: Amends California Insurance Code section 11780.5 to authorize the State Compensation Insurance Fund (SCIF) to provide workers’ compensation coverage to a California employer whose California employees temporarily work outside the state and whose injuries while performing out-of-state work might lead to workers’ compensation liability in some other state.
Under existing law, SCIF could rightfully deny coverage for out-of-state workers’ compensation claims, creating the risk of personal injury lawsuits by employees as a result of their employer not having workers’ compensation insurance coverage in place for such injury claims. The new law expands coverage through partnerships between SCIF and other qualifying carriers, who insure workers’ compensation risks in California, and the other states where the California employees are temporarily working.
DFEH Procedural Regulations
Effective October 7, 2011, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has instituted new regulations relating to procedures for filing, investigating and processing discrimination and harassment claims. DFEH is the state agency charged with enforcing the state Fair Employment and Housing Act and handling complaints of discrimination and harassment. Overall, the regulations make it easier for claimants to file their complaints and initiate a DFEH investigation.
- The statute, as written, requires that a complaint filed with the DFEH be "verified." The new regulations do not require the claimant to sign the complaint. Instead, the complaint can be signed by the claimant’s attorney or other designated representative.
- The DFEH will accept an unsigned complaint if neither the claimant nor an authorized representative can sign it before the statute of limitations expires. The Fair Employment and Housing Commission, which hears cases brought before it by the DFEH, objected to this regulation on the ground that it contradicts the statutory requirement, but the DFEH disagreed and issued the regulation.
- The new procedural regulations allow for liberal construction of complaints.
- For example, if a claimant brings a complaint alleging only discrimination, but the DFEH believes the facts could support retaliation, the DFEH will construe the complaint to allege both discrimination and retaliation even though the claimant did not bring any such claim. As a result, it will be harder for employers to dismiss claims on the ground that the employee never raised the claim before the DFEH.
- The new procedural regulations allow the DFEH to accept complaints that appear untimely on their face and investigate whether the complaint actually was brought within the statute of limitations. This makes it easier for claimants and less likely that employers can have the claim dismissed at an early stage.
Visit the DFEH website at www.dfeh.ca.gov for more information on the regulations.
Copyright: HRC/HR California