A newly identified California Chamber of Commerce job killer bill that is opposed by more than 60 organizations passed the Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee on March 21.
The bill, SB 1044 (Durazo; D-Los Angeles), allows employees to leave work or refuse to show up to work if the employee subjectively feels unsafe regardless of existing health and safety standards or whether the employer has provided health and safety protections, and subjects employers to costly Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) lawsuits if they dispute the employee’s decision or need to have another employee take over any job duties.
In a letter submitted to the bill’s author on March 21, the CalChamber pointed out that SB 1044 would give license to essential workers to skip shifts without prior permission or planning, jeopardizing public safety.
Under the bill, any employer who disciplines an employee for failing to report to work due to a cited state of emergency, would be subject to a lawsuit and penalties under PAGA.
Additionally, the broad applicability of the bill raises safety concerns for other employees in the workplace because it does not require workers to consider the safety of others in their workplace.
The CalChamber also identified other important concerns, including the fact that SB 1044:
• Would cripple emergency response and actually reduce workplace safety. SB 1044 contains no exceptions for essential services, such as health care workers, police or firefighters and would allow emergency response personnel to walk off the job, endangering public safety.
• Broadly defines “state of emergency” to encompass states of emergency that are ongoing. “State of emergency” is defined so broadly that it includes any state of emergency, local emergency, or presidential proclamation of major disaster or emergency caused by natural forces. This would encompass essentially every state of emergency. The bill also does not take into account what safety measures have been put in place by the employer.
• Exposes employers to lawsuits under PAGA. An employer who disciplines an employee for leaving the workplace would be subject to a lawsuit and penalties under PAGA. And any employer who replaces the worker in order to keep the workplace functioning or to provide time-sensitive services could face a retaliation lawsuit. In other words — SB 1044 gives such broad discretion to employees that if they walk away from a completely safe workplace, the employer could do little in response without risking litigation.
• Is unnecessary because existing Cal/OSHA regulations and state and federal laws include substantial safety protections, provide employees the right to a safe workplace, and protect employees from retaliation if those laws are violated.
SB 1044 passed Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement on a vote of 4-1.
Ayes: Cortese (D-San Jose), Durazo (D-Los Angeles), Laird (D-Santa Cruz), Newman (D-Fullerton).
No: Ochoa Bogh (R-Yucaipa).
SB 1044 will be considered next by the Senate Appropriations Committee.