What California Businesses Need to Know
Last year, despite losing weeks of legislative hearings due to COVID-19, the California Legislature managed to draft and deliberate on a significant amount of bills directly impacting both small and large businesses. Many of the business-related bills signed into law were written to address the short-term needs and long-term plans relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, other measures focused on expanding and revising existing laws, with an emphasis on employers providing more time, resources, and rights to their employees.
With that said, it is essential that every California employer takes the time to familiarize themselves with the new laws affecting their workforce. Let’s take a look at a few below.
Paid Sick Leave
Through December 31, 2020, employers in California, who were not covered under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), were required to provide supplemental paid sick leave for COVID-related reasons. Although that obligation expired, some cities and counties decided to extend their supplemental paid sick leave policies into 2021. For example, both Sacramento City and County extended their local ordinances through March 31, 2021. Federal tax credits for providing COVID-19 paid sick leave are still available for eligible California employers through March 31, 2021.
Rebuttable Work Comp
SB 1159 was signed by Governor Newsom on September 17, 2020 and went into effect immediately. This new law creates a rebuttable workers’ compensation presumption for employees who suffer illness or death, as a result of contracting COVID-19 at their place of employment. The presumption remains in effect through January 1, 2023 and only applies to specified industries. Keep in mind, this presumption is “disputable,” so it is critical that an employer acts quickly to gather information and evidence if they intend to oppose the claim.
With the new year came new recording and reporting guidelines for when an employer is informed of a potential COVID-19 exposure at work. AB 685 requires employers to provide multiple written notices to employees within one business day of being notified of the exposure. They must also report the exposure to their local public health department within 48 hours if there are three lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases within a two week period. To learn more about the COVID-19 recording and reporting requirements, go to https://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/coronavirus/.
Family Medical Leave
One of the major issues that will impact employers this year came as a result of SB 1383. This new law makes extensive expansions to California’s Family Rights Act (CFRA). Currently, CFRA requires employers to provide eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave within a 12 month period for family care or medical reasons. With the passing of SB 1383, CFRA now expands its coverage to employers with five or more employees. Up until this year, CFRA only applied to businesses with 50 or more employees, matching the requirements laid out by the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Additionally, SB 1383 creates an expansion of qualifying reasons for family care, adds leave related to a family member’s military service, and eliminates the employers ability to deny leave or refuse reinstatement. Finally, if two parents work for the same employer, they are now each allowed the 12 week new child bonding time, rather than the previous 12 weeks total.
Another bill, AB 2017, requires an employer to let an employee decide whether taking time off to care for a family member will be considered as “sick leave.” Currently, employees are allowed to use half of their accrued sick time for what is considered “kin care.” AB 2017 revises that policy to ensure that an employer does not wrongfully designate an employee’s usage of sick days as kin care.
California employers have a lot on their plates as they continue navigating the unpredictability of the pandemic, new compliance regulations, and a growing legislative push for employee rights. It is critical that employers do everything within their means to educate themselves on their legal requirements to make certain all practical steps are taken to keep their company and workplace safe and healthy.