As advocates for the business community, our work will never be finished in California. Just when you think that there cannot possibly be any more laws to create, legislators dream up something new.
As the New Year rolls around, employers are reading up on changes to labor law and how they can comply. Get comfortable: you’ll be reading for a while. You don’t need me to tell you how important it is to comply with every little new rule, no matter how obscure or how little it will actually affect your employees.
In a recent conversation with business owners from out of state, I explained how California’s Private Attorneys General Act, or PAGA, works. They were stunned – what other state allows trial lawyers to bring private suits for tiny wage and hour violations, exponentially multiplies the fine for every employee, and then awards the money to a state agency rather than the employees affected? No wonder employers are settling these drive-by lawsuits for millions rather than risk their whole business to benefit government coffers.
But I digress. My point is that as employers, you absolutely must make sure you comply with every new labor law and regulation, or risk draconian penalties.
There’s another step that business owners in the San Fernando Valley need to take. We need to come together as a strong, unified voice to fight the laws which legislators in Sacramento will try to pass this year. If we don’t fight these laws and defeat them, I can already anticipate my column in the Business Journal for January 2019.
I’ll be telling you about restrictive scheduling laws, which will mean that employers have to provide schedules for each employee weeks in advance. Since you’re probably preparing weekly or fortnightly schedules, you’ll need to anticipate your employment needs a month out. Did your customer cancel an order with a couple of weeks’ notice? Too bad – you still have to pay the employees you had scheduled. Did someone call in sick for five days and you need to pull in a replacement? You have to pay that replacement extra – plus, of course, pay the sick employee under Los Angeles’ paid sick day requirements.
I’ll be telling you about a new law that forbids you from hiring new part-time employees until you’ve gone to each of your existing part-time employees and asked them if they’d like extra hours. No matter if they can’t work the new hours that you need, or the new hours are at another location, or if you really need more people to provide flexibility in your scheduling. Also, no matter if you can’t afford to pay the benefits that go along with full-time employment. Maybe you are willing to work with a student’s schedule and provide that person with a supplementary, part-time income. Assembly Bill 5 will put a stop to all that.
If business owners join together and fight for what we need, maybe I’ll be telling you about some positive new laws instead. I might be telling you that you can allow your employees to work four shifts of 10 hours per week if that’s what they prefer, without you having to pay them overtime, under Assemblymember Matthew Harper’s AB 1173. I could be telling you that bars and restaurants in nightlife-friendly areas can stay open for business for a couple more hours, until 4 a.m., under Sen. Scott Wiener’s proposal. I could even be telling you that businesses would have a right to cure before being hit with a PAGA lawsuit, if Assemblymember Rudy Salas’ AB 281 is successful.
I’d rather write the second column, telling you about positive changes to allow employers to add jobs and thrive in California. But unless business owners advocate strongly to our elected officials, fighting for what we need, I’ll be writing the first column, and you’ll be laying people off, moving out of state or going out of business completely. So add a few more things to your New Years’ to-do list: pay attention to the capitol and City Hall this year, write a letter to your legislators, join with other business owners across the San Fernando Valley. It’s critically important for our businesses, our economy and our community.
Stuart Waldman is president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, 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.