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Posted on: Jan 19, 2021

As we head into the third full week of 2021, here’s a roundup of some of the new employment laws that you may or may not know went into effect at the beginning of the year.

First up, on the worker protection front is the new law requiring employers to track and notify employees of potential COVID-19 exposure. Under AB 685, employers must notify employees within one business day of possible exposure to COVID-19 within the workplace and must also notify local public health officials. A detailed safety and disinfection plan is also required to be provided to employees, as well as notice of any COVID-19 related benefits available to them under law.

In order to crack down on COVID-19 outbreaks, Cal/OSHA has been granted greater authority to prohibit operations at any workplace deemed to be an “imminent hazard” to employees, with the greater authoritative power in effect until January 1, 2023.

As part of efforts to reduce the spread of the virus, the state has enacted supplemental paid sick time for food workers and some other essential workers, including fire fighters and healthcare workers, allowing for up to two additional weeks of leave so they don’t feel the need to return to work if infected.

California also passed several laws aimed at reducing pay disparities and creating a more equitable employment landscape.

Under SB 973, employers with over 100 employees must now report pay data broken down by gender, race and ethnicity to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) before March 31 each year. The goal is to address pay inequities based on these factors, which employers won’t be able to ignore when staring them in the face should there be discrepancies in the reports.

Another law helping to promote equity is AB 979 which requires publicly traded corporations with principal executive offices in California to appoint at least one member from an underrepresented community to their board of directors by the end of the year.

On the pay front, California’s minimum wage increased to $14 per hour for employers with 26 or more employees and $13 per hour for employers with 25 or fewer employees, with other possible increases mandated by local jurisdictions.

Agricultural workers will also receive a pay bump for working overtime. For employers with over 26 agricultural employees, they must pay overtime to workers who put in over 8.5 hours in a day or 45 hours per week, a lower threshold than the 10-hour days and 60-hour work weeks that were in place.

Lastly, the California Family Rights Act is now expanded to cover employers with 5 employees or more, lowering the threshold from 50 employees, requiring employers to provide unpaid leave of up to 12 weeks each year to bond with a newborn or to care for themselves or a family member with a serious medical condition.

A more comprehensive list of the various employment laws that went into effect can be viewed here. And while we’ll be watching the impacts of Prop 22 and AB 5, it’s nice to see the above laws going into effect, helping to establish a more equitable employment landscape.