Getting Burned By The "Weather Tax"
Most dermatologists here in the Golden State will advise patients, ad nauseum, to stay out of the sun whenever possible. And if you have to be out in the sun, they’ll tell you to wear lots of sunscreen. All good advice, even if we don’t want to hear it. Like dermatologists, we lawyers also advise our own “patients” of ways to help them avoid getting burned by the law. Unfortunately, here in sunny California, it's getting harder and harder to avoid the heat, especially if you’re an employer. Like flares from the sun, our Legislature is looking to unleash some scorchers on California businesses. Here is a sample of the heatwave coming our way (get out your sunscreen):
- AB 51 (Gonzalez; D-San Diego) Employment Discrimination Enforcement (i.e., Ban on Arbitration Agreements) — This legislation seeks to cool the trend of promoting the resolution of employment disputes outside of the court system. It would effectively ban arbitration agreements made as a condition of employment with a corresponding wildfire of employment litigation and increased costs for employers and employees.
- AB 628 (Bonta; D-Oakland) Victims of Sexual Harassment Protections (i.e., New Leave of Absence for Employees and Their Family Members) — This proposal expands the definition of sexual harassment under the Labor Code and would likely lead to inconsistent implementation of anti-harassment policies, confusion, and expensive litigation. It also provides an unprecedented, uncapped leave of absence for victims of sexual harassment and their “family members.” We agree that workplace harassment must be vigorously addressed and curtailed. However, like giving a box of matches to a child, this bill creates extraordinary potential for mischief and abuse.
- AB 673 (Carrillo; D-Los Angeles) Failure to Pay Wages Penalties (i.e., Make the Employer Pay More for Alleged Wage Violations) — This bill would allow both an employee and the Labor Commissioner to recover the same civil penalties through civil litigation, exposing an employer to being burned twice for the same violation. This appears to be another gift to the plaintiff’s bar.
- SB 135 (Jackson; D-Santa Barbara) Paid Family Leave (i.e., Expand the California Family Rights Act) — Employers with as few as five employees would have to provide 12 weeks of protected leave of absence each year, besides existing leaves of absences already required, and potentially requiring larger employers to provide 10 months of protected leave. This adds another level to an already complex leave structure and a potentially onerous burden for the small business.
- SB 188 (Mitchell; D-Los Angeles) Discrimination: Hairstyles (i.e., No More Bad Hair Days) — The definition of unlawful race discrimination would be expanded to include discrimination based on “hair textures and protective hairstyles.” Yes, you read that correctly. California would be the first state in the nation to pass a law explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on a haircut. If employers weren’t already fuming over the state’s ever-expanding hairnet of regulations, this one will really set their hair on fire.
So what is an employer to do? Unless an increased cost of business is something your bottom line can afford, now is the time to make your voice heard. Contact your representatives, support your local advocacy group, and leverage your influence to turn up the heat on our politicians to give employers some much-needed relief.
Stephanie M. Stringer, Hall Griffin, Associate
John A Cone, Jr., Hall Griffin, Of Counsel