A number of bills that would have hindered employers in the state have been stopped for the year, but a few others remain. In this week’s episode of The Workplace, CalChamber Executive Vice President and General Counsel Erika Frank, and CalChamber Executive Vice President Jennifer Barrera discuss employment law bills making their way through the Legislature and the effects the passage of these bills could have on employers in California.
Leave Expansion Bills Stalled
The first set of bills Frank discusses with Barrera, who spearheads the California Chamber of Commerce policy team, are bills that have stalled for the year, but may reappear in January 2020.
The first bill they discuss is AB 555 (Gonzalez; D-San Diego), which was placed on the inactive file by the bill’s author. The bill would have expanded the state’s paid sick leave law from three days to five days. Although two days may not seem significant, Barrera says, the expansion can be a big burden on small employers.
“Documentation is always an issue and with this [bill] there is not an ability for the employer to verify a leave of absence for sick leave, so it creates a lot of challenges with absenteeism in the workplace,” she says.
Another problematic bill that was stopped was AB 628 (Bonta; D-Oakland). The bill was labeled a job killer by the CalChamber as it would have created unlimited time off for victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. The bill states that any individual who is a victim of sexual harassment can take a protected leave of absence from work. A victim’s family member could also take a protected leave of absence.
“It was basically an unlimited leave of absence with little to no notice to the employer of taking the time off,” says Barrera.
AB 628 was taken up on the Assembly floor and failed passage to the Senate, but was granted reconsideration.
The last of the employment leave bills Barrera discusses with Frank is job killer bill SB 135 (Jackson; D-Santa Barbara). The bill was moved to the Senate inactive file by its author. The bill sought to expand the California Family Rights Act, which provides up to 12 weeks of protected leave, to apply to employers with five employees or more.
The bill would have placed a significant burden on small employers who don’t have the workforce to cover the duties of employees out on leave, Barrera says.
“Family leave is a tough policy issue because obviously legislators are sympathetic to the needs of family and medical conditions, and taking time off to care for that, but there is a balance that needs to be appreciated with regards to smaller employers,” she tells Frank.
Legislation That Is Advancing
This week’s podcast also updates listeners on a bill that seeks to address some elements of the Dynamex decision; the ruling was discussed on Episode 2 of The Workplace podcast.
AB 5 (Gonzalez; D-San Diego), which passed out of the Assembly with significant support, codifies the Dynamex decision, putting it into the Labor Code, and specifies that the ABC test would be applicable to the unemployment insurance code, Barrera explains. The bill also offers exemptions that are important for businesses, such as exemptions for doctors, insurance agents, financial brokers, direct sellers, professionals who have a business license and have a degree in law, dentistry, accounting, engineering, architecture, human resources, or marketing.
As AB 5 continues in the legislative cycle, Barrera says she expects the bill will be further worked on and expanded.
“It is really encouraging for such a huge issue to move forward to the next house and for the author to show such commitment, as well as the different members that spoke in support of finding some kind of resolution, in a general recognition that the Dynamex decision is just too broadly impacting the economy and other workers in California,” Frank replies.
Wrapping up the podcast, Barrera highlights two bills that are particularly important for employers. The first bill Barrera brings up is AB 51 (Gonzalez; D-San Diego), which deals with arbitration agreements in the workplace. The bill states that employers cannot have an arbitration agreement as a condition of employment to resolve employment disputes, Barrera tells Frank.
“Arbitration is basically an alternative forum than court to resolve your dispute,” Barrera explains. “It is done in a more efficient and expedited manner than civil litigation. And it’s usually resolved within six months to a year, as opposed to waiting in civil litigation for four to five years to have your dispute resolved.”
AB 51 is nearly identical to a bill that made it out of the Legislature last year, but was vetoed by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. because it directly violated the Federal Arbitration Act. If AB 51 were to pass, it would likely be challenged in the courts, Barrera says
The last bill Barrera addresses is AB 1066 (Gonzalez; D-San Diego), which would allow employees who are on strike to receive unemployment benefits if the strike lasts for more than a specified amount of time.
“It flips the idea of what unemployment benefits are supposed to be utilized for and puts the state in the middle of a labor dispute, essentially, by funding striking workers,” says Barrera. “…When we have a recession on the horizon, and there is a concern about what the employment and unemployment rate will look like at that time, I think it is concerning to now add a huge portion of the population that has access to this fund that has never had it before.”
As these bills progress further in the legislative cycle, employers can stay up-to-date by visiting advocacy.calchamber.com. Easy-to-edit sample letters and other resources are available at advocacy.calchamber.com/grassroots/.