Minimum wages to rise statewide, with larger gains for fast food and health workers. More paid sick leave, workplace violence prevention rules and other worker protections are also to begin Jan. 1.
By Mark Kreidler, Capital & Main
This story is produced by the award-winning journalism nonprofit Capital & Main and co-published here with permission.
Union victories after difficult contract negotiations dominated California’s labor scene in 2023, but the bargaining table wasn’t the only venue at which workers’ rights and wage issues were addressed. The halls of the State Capitol were active, too.
As a result, there are a number of laws worth watching as they either take full effect in 2024 or start being phased in. Among them:
California’s statewide minimum wage increases to $16 an hour on Jan. 1, up 50 cents from the 2023 figure. It applies regardless of the size of the employer. It is also strictly a state minimum; many individual cities and counties have higher local figures. Both Los Angeles and unincorporated Los Angeles County have minimums closer to $17, while San Francisco’s minimum in 2023 rose to $18.07.
Senate Bill 525, meanwhile, initiates a series of wage increases that will get health workers in most settings to a mandated minimum of $25 an hour within a few years. The current minimum is $15.50. According to research by the UC Berkeley Labor Center, more than 450,000 workers will be affected by the raises, and the impact will be most significant for workers of color, who make up more than 70% of health care workers in the state, and women, who account for 75% of that workforce.
And the landmark fast-food workers bill, AB 1228, will boost workers’ wages in those settings to $20 an hour beginning April 1, the highest guaranteed base salary in the industry. The current average is $16.21. The bill also empowers the Fast Food Council, which operates within the state Department of Industrial Relations, to increase the minimum wage annually and to develop standards in other areas, such as working conditions and training.
California is one of 14 states (plus the District of Columbia) with a paid sick leave law on the books, a critical distinction since there is no federal mandate. The passage of SB 616 expands the law to five paid days or 40 hours per year, up from the previous three days or 24 hours. The author, State Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), originally pushed for seven days of paid leave, but the bill faced blowback from the powerful California Chamber of Commerce, which placed it on its annual job killer list. The new sick leave policy takes effect Jan. 1.
Another law, SB 848, extends current bereavement leave provisions to include up to five days for “a reproductive loss event,” including miscarriages, stillbirths, failed adoptions or breakdowns in surrogate pregnancy agreements. The leave may be unpaid, although workers can use other available paid leave such as sick days or paid time off (PTO) during that leave. The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, applies to employers with five or more workers.
WORKPLACE VIOLENCE PREVENTION
Beginning July 1, California employers are required by SB 553 to put in place a violence prevention plan for workers that includes extensive training and a log of violent incidents at the workplace, and to make some of those records available to employees and their representatives. The bill also empowers a union representative to pursue a temporary restraining order on behalf of an employee who has suffered “unlawful violence or a credible threat of violence,” but doesn’t want to be named in the restraining order. That part of the law does not commence until January of 2025.
California has long prohibited noncompete clauses for workers, but two new laws expand on the scope of that protection. The first, SB 699, which takes effect Jan. 1, specifies that a noncompete is invalid no matter when or where it was signed, including an agreement signed by a worker who was originally employed in a different state. The second, AB 1076, gives employers until Feb. 14 to contact current and former workers who signed a noncompete clause to inform them that the agreement is now void.
The passage of SB 497 gives workers a broader shield against being punished by employers for reporting workplace issues like wage and hour violations, the breaking of state or federal labor law, or unequal pay. The bill creates a “presumption in favor of the employee’s claim” of retribution if the worker is fired, threatened, demoted, suspended or otherwise discriminated against within 90 days of reporting workplace issues. The new law provides for a $10,000 civil penalty for each violation, to be paid to the worker who was retaliated against. The burden now falls to the employer to prove there was a “non-retaliatory reason” why a whistleblowing worker was disciplined or fired within that 90-day window.
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