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2016 Employment Law Update – Key New California Employment Laws

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Summary of Key New California Employment Laws for 2016

1. Minimum Wage

Effective Date – January 1, 2016

In accordance with previous legislation enacted by the California State Legislature in 2013, the state minimum wage increased to $10/hour on January 1, 2016. Because of this increase, effective January 1, 2016, the minimum salary for most full-time exempt administrative, professional, and executive employees increased to $41,600 per year ($3,466.67 per month). The minimum salary for those falling under the computer professional exemption increased to $41.85 per hour effective January 1, 2016, resulting in a minimum monthly salary requirement of $7,265.43 ($87,185.14 per year).

2. Adverse Action and Retaliation for Protected Activities AB 1509

Effective Date – January 1, 2016

This new law amends several California Labor Code sections pertaining to the prohibition against taking adverse employment actions by employers against employees or job applicants for being engaged in certain protected activities, such as exposing illegal or unlawful practices undertaken by an employer or filing a complaint against an employer regarding unsafe working conditions. This law extends such protections to employees and job applicants who are family members of the person who engages, or is perceived to engage, in the protected conduct. Therefore, this law prohibits an employer from retaliating or taking any adverse employment action against an employee or job applicant because he or she is a family member of an employee who has, or is perceived to have, engaged in any protected activity.

3. Wage Garnishments SB 501

Effective Date – July 1, 2016

This new law will reduce the prohibited amount that can be garnished from a judgement debtor’s weekly disposable earnings subject to a withholding order from exceeding the lesser of 25% of the employees weekly disposable earnings or 50% of the amount by which the employee’s disposable earnings for the week exceeds 40 times the state minimum hourly wage or applicable local minimum hourly wage, if higher, in effect at the time the earnings are to be paid.

4. School Activities Leave SB 579

Effective Date – January 1, 2016

This legislation applies to employers of 25 or more employees and expands upon the right of employees of such employers to take a leave of absence from work for school and/or child care related activities. This law allows an employee to take time off to locate a school and/or licensed child care provider and to enroll and/or re-enroll a child in such facilities, as well as, to address child care and/or school emergencies. This law also revises the language used in prior laws permitting such leave that refer to a “child day care facility” to now be referenced as, “child care provider.” The law also defines “parent” for purposes of this law to include parent, guardian, step-parent, foster parent, or grandparent of, or a person who stands in loco parentis to, a child, thereby extending the protections for such time off from work to all employees who fall within said definition of a parent.

5. E-Verify System – AB 622

Effective Date – January 1, 2016

This law prohibits employers from using the e-verify system administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Social Security Administration, to check the employment authorization status of existing employees and job applicants who have not been offered employment with that employer. The law also requires an employer to notify a person as soon as practicable if the employer receives notification from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or U.S. Social Security Administration indicating that the information entered by the employer on the e-verify system did not match federal records. The law provides for civil monetary penalties up to $10,000 against any employer for each unlawful use of the e-verify system.

6. Requests for Reasonable Accommodation – AB 987

Effective Date – January 1, 2016

This legislation was enacted by the California State Legislature in response to a 2013 California Court of Appeals ruling (Rope v. Auto-Chlor System of Washington, Inc.) in which the Court held that a mere request for reasonable accommodation for a disability or religious belief or observance is not a “protected activity” and does not automatically create a basis for an employee or job applicant to bring a retaliation claim against an employer under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. This law clarifies that an employer is prohibited from retaliating or discriminating against an employee or job applicant for requesting a reasonable accommodation for a disability or religion, regardless of whether the request is granted. In addition, this law clarifies that simply making such a request is deemed protected conduct under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

7. Piece-Rate Based Compensation Requirements – AB 513

Effective Date – January 1, 2016

This legislation applies to compensation paid to employees paid on a piece-rate basis. This law requires that employees be paid for “rest and recovery periods” and for other “non-productive time”, defined as time under an employer’s control exclusive of rest and recovery periods that is not directly related to the activity for which compensation is provided on a piece-rate basis. Per this law, employers are required to compensate employees for rest and recovery at a regular hourly rate that is no less than the higher of either an “average hourly rate” (calculated by dividing the total compensation for the work week, minus pay for rest and recovery and any premium pay for overtime, by the total hours worked during the work week) or the “applicable minimum wage” defined as the highest of the federal, state, or applicable local minimum wage. Employers are required to pay employees for non-productive time at an hourly rate that is not less than the applicable minimum wage. In addition, this law requires that itemized wage statements (pay stubs) show the total hours of compensable rest and recovery, the rate of compensation, and the gross wages paid for such periods during the pay period. Employers that do not pay an hourly rate for all hours worked in addition to piece-rate wages must also include the following on the itemized wage statements:

  1. total number of hours of other non-productive time;
  2. rate of pay for such non-productive time; and
  3. the gross wages paid for such time during the pay period.

This new law also contains a “safe harbor” provision, which allows employers that may not have properly paid piece-rate employees for rest and recovery and non-productive time an opportunity to avoid civil liability. In order to take advantage of the “safe harbor” provision, an employer must do the following by December 31, 2016:

  1. make payments to its employees for previously uncompensated or undercompensated rest and recovery and non-productive time from July 1, 2012 to December 31, 2015;
  2. pay accrued interest; and
  3. provide written notice by July 1, 2016 to the Department of Industrial Relations of the employer’s decision to make such payments to current and former employees.

8. Equal Pay Act – SB 358

Effective Date – January 1, 2016

This law revises California Labor Code sections dealing with gender pay inequality. The law expands the prohibition on paying an employee less than the rate paid to an employee of the opposite sex, amends the Labor Code by eliminating the requirement that the pay difference be “within the same establishment”, and eliminates use of the term “equal work for equal skill, effort, and responsibility.” This law prohibits an employer from paying any of its employees less than employees of the opposite sex for “substantially similar work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility.” In addition, the law places the burden of proof on the employer to show that a wage differential is not unlawful, but is instead based entirely upon acceptable and reasonable factors such as seniority, merit, or other good faith bona fide factors in conjunction with a showing of “business necessity.” This law also prohibits an employer from taking any adverse employment action, such as retaliation, termination of employment, or discrimination, against an employee who exercises his or her rights and/or assists another in exercising his/her rights under this law. Under this law, an employer cannot prohibit an employee from disclosing his/her wages and/or discussing wages with other employees, or from asking about the wages of another employee. This law does not, however, require anyone to disclose wages when asked.

9. And, for you sports enthusiasts, you might be interested to know…

Professional Cheerleaders – (AB 202)

Effective Date – January 1, 2016

This law requires all California based professional sports franchises that use cheerleaders during events, games, and exhibitions to classify such cheerleaders as employees rather than independent contractors.




Test Your Knowledge Answers – December 7, 2015





Test Your Knowledge Answers – November 24, 2015


  1. True or False – California law requires that employers pay a portion of an employee’s cell phone bill if the employee is required to use his/her personal cell phone for work-related calls – even if the employee has an unlimited data plan and incurs no additional expenses due to the work-related calls, and even if someone else pays the employee’s cell phone bill.
  1. True or False: California law requires an employer to pay an employee for 8 hours of work time for each day the employee is away from work serving as a juror in a trial.
  1. An employee who reports to work on time for a scheduled shift of 8 hours who is sent home due to a lack of work after working 2 hours must be paid ____ hours at his/her regular rate of pay.


  1. True
  2. False
  3. 4