Labor Law Updates for California Workers in 2017

Known as a time for transformation, each New Year ushers in changes ranging from resolutions at the personal level to the inner working of law and government. Even though many people will be working as 2017 begins, most are probably unfamiliar with changes to the law that directly impact the scope of their employment. Since we are based in of California and also have the largest workforce in the country with a civilian workforce of almost 20 million, here is a list of some of the most notable changes that have taken place in employment and workers’ compensation law which took effect on January 1, 2017.

Minimum Wage

Perhaps one of the biggest and most controversial changes of 2017, the minimum wage for California employers with 26 or more workers has been increased from $10.00/hour to $10.50/hour, or an extra $20 per week for full time employees. By 2022, this number will increase to $15/hour. Some say that this increase in minimum wage will help adjust for the cost of inflation while others argue that it will have a negative effect for the economy in California by reducing employment, raising prices for consumers, and making it more difficult for low wage earners to break into the labor market. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, this will affect a large portion of the California workforce and economy for the next five years and beyond.

Marijuana legalization

With the passage of Proposition 64 in November of 2016 that legalized recreational marijuana use, many employees believed that they had a free pass to use marijuana. However, employers still retain the right to test workers for marijuana use and even terminate them based on a positive test, even if there is no indication that the impairment occurred on the job. Considering that marijuana can stay in your system anywhere ranging from a week to months depending on usage, this can present quite the problem for certain employees. Many employers may also have workers sign a “statement of reaffirmation” reminding them of company policy in relation to drug use.

Smoking At Work

AB-7 broadens the prohibition of smoking forms of tobacco in the workplace to include e-cigarettes and vaping devices that contain nicotine. Furthermore, the exemption to this rule in places such as bars and hotels was removed. Additionally, the minimum smoking age in California was also raised from 18 to 21 years old, although this went into effect in mid-2016.

Workers Compensation Laws

According to the Riverside work injury attorneys at DiMarco Araujo Montevideo, 2017 saw a bevy of new workers’ compensation laws aimed at improving anti-fraud efforts and reducing delays in treatment. One of the first bills to be aware of is AB 1244 which states that if a medical provider is convicted of a crime, patient abuse, or fraud, the Department of Workers Compensation is required to suspend the provider from participating in the workers compensation system and denies them further payment for services. This bill is important because it goes hand in hand with SB 1160, which stipulates that liens owned by medical providers for unpaid medical services, are automatically stayed  if there are pending criminal proceedings. It also adds the requirement and electronic framework for medical providers to report and verify that a lien is legitimate. This ensures that those who are victims of fraud or abuse can have their claim streamlined and monitored more easily by administrators.

Another important bill in the realm of workers’ compensation is AB 2883 which provides that the workers’ compensation system in the state must cover several types of employees and individuals, such as directors and officers, who were previously exceptions. While this may seem like it would only affect the upper tier of companies, some employers would list all of their employees as some form of director or officer to avoid paying workers’ comp. Those who fall under the term of director or officer who own at least 15% company stock can opt out by signing a waiver under penalty of perjury. While this move will inevitably increase workers’ compensation prices, it will also extend coverage to more people.

Anti-Discrimination Laws

2017 has also brought an expansion of anti-discrimination laws aimed at protecting employees. Under AB 488, protections offered by the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which protect workers from discrimination based on race, religion, sex, age, sexual orientation, physical ability and mental ability, are expanded to disabled workers who worked at places that require a special license, such as nonprofit sheltered workshops or rehabilitation facilities. In conjunction, AB 1676 amends the California Fair Pay Act to strengthen protections for women who are paid less than men for equal work. According to some estimates, the median gender wage gap in California is estimated at $8,000 per year.

As can be seen from the measures taken above, California has made some sweeping changes in the workplace for 2017. From increasing the minimum wage to taking a stance on smoking, both tobacco and marijuana, in the workplace and strengthening various protections for workers, it will be interesting to see the impact that these changes will have on workers and the state of California as a whole.

Are there any other notable changes that we missed here? If so, please leave them in the comments below.

Header image via wikimedia commons.

Rob Tindula

When he's not playing beach volleyball, Rob serves as a general news reporter for Dopplr. He typically covers news related to crime, drug policy, and education.

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