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California Governor signs new employment laws

September 9, 2011

California governor Jerry Brown took Labor Day seriously, returning to a hard day’s work of law-signing after the long weekend. Here’s what’s coming for California employers.

AB 240 amends Labor Code section 98 to permit the Labor Commissioner to award liquidated damages in an administrative complaint for failure to pay the minimum wage. The amount of liquidated damages is equal to the amount of unpaid wages — so in essence the successful employee would recover double wages owed. Employees were previously able to obtain liquidated damages in such cases only if brought in court. Now they are available through an administrative complaint as well.

AB 587 extends until 2017 a sunset provision permitting true “volunteers” to work on what would otherwise be prevailing wage public works projects. So real volunteers, paid volunteer coordinators, and members of the California Conservation Corps or a community conservation corps can continue to work on these kinds of projects for another five years without running into prevailing wage issues.

SB 117 prohibits state agencies from dealing with contractors who discriminate against employees with same-sex spouses or domestic partners. Or, as the law puts it, contractors who “discriminate between employees with spouses and employees with domestic partners, or discriminate between employees with spouses or domestic partners of a different sex and employees with spouses or domestic partners of the same sex, or discriminate between same-sex and different-sex domestic partners of employees or between same-sex and different-sex spouses of employees.” Huh? The legislative process. Gotta love it.

SB 559 adds discrimination on the grounds of genetic information to the list of protected classed under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. “Genetic information” is broadly defined, and includes information about a person’s genetic tests, the genetic tests of a person’s family members, and the manifestation of a disease in a person’s family. It also includes any request for or receipt of genetic services by a person or family member. “Genetic information” does not, however, include a person’s sex (but don’t go discriminating on that ground, because the law has already got that one covered.

SB 609 affects appeals of the state Public Employee Relations Board decisions regarding employee organizations (i.e., unions). Disputes about recognition of a union are submitted to an administrative law judge appointed by the PERB, and can be appealed by the aggrieved party to the full board. The new law simply states that if the board doesn’t act on the appeal within 6 months of its filing, the ALJ decision is deemed to be affirmed.

Employers, take note — particularly of SB 559, which will require amendments to anti-discrimination policies and procedures. And note that there are other bills pending that may become law before long.

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