Sweeping Labor Protections Take Effect in California

The popular adage, “all politics is local” has never been truer in the current political climate. While Congress continues to ignore major issues such as the minimum wage and protections for pregnant workers, local and state governments have taken the lead to act where the federal government has not. There is much that can be, and should be, done by those closest to the situation. As is often the case, California has taken some of the boldest steps.

This year marks the beginning of several sweeping employee protections in California. From minimum wage increases to paid sick leave, California is going the opposite of several states that are weakening protections. Many of the legislative updates address some gaping holes left in federal law, as well as Supreme Court rulings. The primary focus for most of the laws is the protection of low wage workers.

Beginning July 1, all employers will be required to provide, at a minimum, one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Employees can begin to use the paid sick leave after 90 days of employment. The paid leave can be used for the employee or to care for a sick family member, which is particularly important for workers with children. The paid sick leave is at the same rate of pay and accrued time can be carried over from year to year. Most importantly, the mandatory paid leave applies to all employers, regardless of size and is available to even part-time workers, who will be able to accrue paid leave even if they work multiple jobs. Most employees in California will have a minimum of three days of paid sick leave per year.

California is in the midst of a steady increase in the state minimum wage, currently at $9 per hour, with a final increase to $10 per hour as of July 1, 2016. Most employers see the minimum more as a legal benchmark and often pay more. Nevertheless, there are several large corporations that rely on the minimum wage as a way to increase their own bottom line. While some local California cities have set higher minimum wages within the city limits, there are few places in California where the state minimum wage is a livable one. This means many low wage workers are left unable to make ends meet and must supplement their income with public assistance, such as with SNAP and Medi-Cal. This reliance on low wages and no medical benefits essentially subsidizes large employers and allows them to shift the burden to the government.

As a way to discourage this, California passed AB 1792, which will require state agencies to collaborate to determine the number of employed people on public assistance, such as SNAP or Medi-Cal, as well as the name of their employer. This information will be used to issue a report of California employers that currently have employees on public assistance. This requirement went into affect as of January 1 for companies with more than 100 employees and will continue for a minimum of five years.

With recent studies showing that large employers that don’t pay living wages, like Walmart, cost the American taxpayers billions of dollars in public subsidies, the report will also include the annual cost of this subsidizing to California taxpayers. The law also provides protections for employees, many of whom are required to work in order to receive assistance, from being retaliated against. Employers are not allowed to discriminate in hiring or pressure employees to forgo any assistance they need. The hope is that more employers will pay wages and provide benefits that will prevent employees from needing the assistance.

There are also numerous protections for contract workers and interns. In addition to paying lower wages, many employers increased their bottom line post recession by hiring freelancers or outsourcing to a labor contractor, which allowed them to forgo employee protections such as benefits and workers’ compensation. Now companies are responsible if any independent contractor fails to pay prevailing wages or provide workers’ compensation. California has long had strict rules regarding unpaid interns and volunteers, but has now extended protections to them regarding discrimination, religious beliefs and disability accommodations as employees. The state has also joined the “ban the box” movement by requiring state contractors to certify that they do not require job applicants to disclose any criminal history during the application stage.

Violations of these sweeping protections and the numerous others, which also cover immigrant workers, child laborers and sexual harassment training, are enforceable via sanctions and civil penalties. Protections are included for retaliation as well as recoupment of legal fees should an employee be forced to take legal action. When many states are increasingly stripping away protections under the auspices of being “pro-businesses,” it seems that in California being pro-business includes protecting the people that do the actual work.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

50 comments

Jim Ven
Jim V2 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Mark H.
Mark H3 years ago

So many trying so hard.

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MJ J.
Past Member 3 years ago

let's wait for the results

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Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell3 years ago

Thanks

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Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson3 years ago

I do not care how we give workers power over their lives (unions, coops, micro businesses, lawsuits, working class politics, co-determination, tripartite management, workers' control, or any other method you can think of) but they do need more power over their own lives and working conditions.

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Mahmoud Khalil
Mahmoud Khalil3 years ago

thanks

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Dt Nc
Dt Nc3 years ago

Way to go California! Finally, a state that realize the prosperity of a state is dependent on the well being of the entire population.

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Natasha Salgado
Past Member 3 years ago

Thanks

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Sue H.
Sue H3 years ago

Every little bit helps.

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