Silver Taube: New laws in 2023 advance workers’ rights
Rosa Vargas (left, holding banner) and other workers protesting in August 2021 at a Burger King on Almaden Road that has allegedly failed to address excessive heat conditions. File photo.

    This column is my end of year summary of important new employment laws coming in 2023. California is at the forefront of groundbreaking laws. This year is no exception.

    AB 257—Fast-Food Council that sets industry standards

    The bill creates a state Fast-Food Council that will establish sector-wide minimum standards on wages, hours and working conditions for fast-food workers subject to a petition signed by 10,000 workers approving the creation of the council. On Nov. 15, fast-food workers submitted 17,000 signatures.

    The bill would also authorize a county or city with a population greater than 200,000 to establish a local Fast-Food Council that provides recommendations to the state council. Santa Clara County has already established a Retail Food Advisory Council that will conduct a survey of restaurant workers and provide recommendations to the state body.

    AB 1041—Paid sick leave and California’s Family Rights Act available for designated person

    The bill expands the definition of a “family member” under the California Family Rights Act and California’s Healthy Workplaces Healthy Families Act—the law that provides up to three days sick leave per year—to include a designated person. Under both, employees will be able to identify a designated person for whom they want to use leave when they request unpaid (Family Rights Act) or paid (Healthy Workplaces Healthy Families Act) leave. Employers will be able to limit an employee to one designated person per 12-month period.

    AB 1949—Bereavement leave

    The bill requires employers with five or more employees in California to give employees with at least one month on the job up to five days of unpaid bereavement leave after the death of a spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, domestic partner or parent-in-law. Bereavement leave must be completed within three months of the death of the family member.

    AB 2223—Employer liability: reproductive rights

    The bill prohibits a person from being subject to civil or criminal liability based on their actions or omissions with respect to their pregnancy or actual, potential or alleged pregnancy outcome, or based on their actions to aid or assist a woman or pregnant person who is exercising their reproductive rights.

    AB 2282—Discrimination and harassment: hate crimes

    The bill expands the definition of hate crimes in the workplace to include displays of hate imagery.

    AB 523—Reproductive health: discrimination

    This bill prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of an individual’s reproductive health decision-making and expands required health plan coverage for contraceptives.

    AB 731—Criminal records relief

    This bill seals the records of defendants convicted of most felonies on or after Jan. 1, 2005 if they completed their sentence, probation, supervision, parole and any other terms of their conviction, and are not convicted of a new felony for four years.

    AB 951—Increased benefits for low-income workers

    Workers who earn 70% or less than the state’s average wage would be eligible for 90% of their regular wages under State Disability Insurance and Paid Family Leave. Currently, low-wage earners are eligible for 70% of their regular wages under the programs.

    AB 2188—Cannabis discrimination

    The bill prohibits an adverse action against an employee based on an employee’s use of cannabis off the job and away from the workplace, or a drug-screening test that finds the employee to have nonpsychoactive cannabis metabolites in their hair, blood, urine or other bodily fluids. An adverse action based on THC-positive testing—psychoactive metabolites—will still be permitted. It does not apply to the construction and building trades.

    AB 984—Surveillance

    The bill requires disclosure of the use of GPS tracking location technology in fleet vehicles and allows an employee to disable the device during off hours.

    California Privacy Rights Act of 2020

    The act expands the privacy and information security obligations of most employers in California and requires significant changes to existing HR policies, procedures and practices in handling employee’s personal information because California employees, applicants, emergency contacts, beneficiaries, independent contractors and members of boards of directors now have the same privacy rights as any other consumer. The bill also creates the Privacy Protection Agency to enforce the state consumer data privacy laws.

    SB 1044—No retaliation for leaving work in emergency conditions

    This bill prohibits an employer, in the event of an emergency condition, from taking an adverse action against an employee for refusing to report to, or leaving, a workplace or worksite because the employee has a reasonable belief that the workplace or worksite is unsafe. An emergency condition is defined as conditions of disaster or peril caused by natural forces or a criminal act, or an order to evacuate a workplace, worksite, a worker’s home or the school of a worker’s child.

    An “emergency condition” does not include a health pandemic; therefore, the law will not be applicable to employees that claim the worksite is unsafe due to COVID-19.

    SB 1162—Wage transparency

    This bill requires employers of 100 or more employees to submit separate pay data reports and requires employers of 15 or more employees to provide the pay scale for a position in any job posting.

    AB 2300—CalWorks and CalFresh families’ work requirements

    The bill ensures that CalWorks and CalFresh families are protected by the same labor and employment rights as all California workers and requires counties to provide information to program participants about these rights. CalWorks and CalFresh families will be protected from losing their benefits if they choose to leave a workplace due to sexual harassment, discrimination or other violations.

    I expect that in the coming years California will continue to enact cutting-edge laws that advance workers’ rights.

    San José Spotlight columnist Ruth Silver Taube is supervising attorney of the Workers’ Rights Clinic at the Katharine & George Alexander Community Law Center, supervising attorney of the Santa Clara County’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement Legal Advice Line and a member of Santa Clara County’s Fair Workplace Collaborative. Her columns appear every second Thursday of the month. Contact her at [email protected].

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