Across the country, many people are back in the office after ringing in the New Year, with their New Year’s resolutions made and with hopes for what 2017 may hold. For businesses of all sizes, a new year means an update to the employee handbook, and this year’s updates are especially important.
In 2016, California passed numerous labor and employment laws affecting businesses across the state. Employers should review their current policies and practices to ensure compliance with all of the new laws for 2017.
The most headline-grabbing update will be the increase in the minimum wage. The statewide California increase on Jan. 1 may not affect many employers in Los Angeles, since the minimum wage is higher here. The increase will impact your exempt salaried employees, as you will have to pay employees making below double the minimum wage overtime. In Los Angeles County and City, the minimum wage will rise to $12 per hour on July 1st. All of these increases will also impact your other payroll costs.
There are other new laws which haven’t received as much attention. Effective March 1st, single-user restrooms must be identified with signage as “all gender” facilities, rather than being designated as male or female only. You can still label restrooms with multiple stalls as a single gender, but every single-user restroom must be labelled as an all gender facility.
In this New Year, restrictions on inquiries about a prospective employee’s criminal history have been expanded to prohibit employers from asking about applicants’ juvenile criminal history. In the city of Los Angeles, employers are prohibited from asking questions about a job applicant’s criminal history until a conditional offer of employment has been made. Starting in July, employers who fail to “ban the box” asking about criminal history on the application form will face fines. There are certain exemptions to this ordinance, but it is important that employers take steps to ensure compliance with the new restrictions.
Remind your employees that it is now illegal to use your phone with your hands while driving. Checking traffic, texting or changing music will all result in a ticket. In the San Fernando Valley, we have too often seen the devastating effects of distracted driving. Eight people are killed every day across the United States as a result distracted driving.
A recurring question I’ve been hearing from employers is about the legalization of marijuana. Unlike the failed 2010 legalization initiative, Proposition 64 legalized the use of marijuana for adults over 21, but protected the right of employers to test their employees and job applicants for marijuana use. Employers can continue to maintain a drug-free workplace, and many employees, such as commercial drivers, must be drug-free.
A significant change for a select number of employers will be limits on where you can adjudicate disputes with your employees. Agreements signed after Jan. 1 will be subject to a new law, which gives California employees the right to have their claims heard under California law, regardless of what their contract says.
Employers with more than 25 employees must notify new hires about an employee’s right to protected time off if they are the victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. Employees already had the right to this time off, but employers are now mandated to inform each employee of this right by providing specific information in writing to new employees upon hire and upon request of the employee.
Specific types of businesses also have new laws – retailers will be aware that the plastic bag ban was upheld. Developers in the city of Los Angeles are subject to the requirements of Measure JJJ. They will be required to use union-trained and local labor for most housing projects, as well as an affordable housing component that can be waived by the City Council for union-backed projects.
These legislative changes are a mixture of good and bad for employers. Throughout 2017, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association will continue to advocate for employers. In the meantime, it is important that employers protect themselves by ensuring that they comply with the new and expanded laws for 2017.
Stuart Waldman is president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA), a business advocacy organization based in Van Nuys that represents employers in the San Fernando Valley at the local, state and federal levels of government.