In this article, we focus on the top 10 laws, regulations and trends going into 2018 that employers need to be aware of.
- New Parent Leave Act
Effective Jan. 1, 2018, employers in California with 20 or more workers will be required to provide eligible employees with 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to bond with a new child.
This builds on a 20-year-old law that required only employers with 50 or more staff to provide employees with time off for child bonding. Like the current law, the New Parent Leave Act applies to newborns or a child placed with the employee for adoption for foster care.
To be eligible for parental leave, an employee must:
- Have worked for the employer for at least 12 months;
- Have worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months before taking leave; and
- Work at a worksite that has at least 20 employees within a 75-mile radius.
While the leave is unpaid, employees are allowed to use accrued vacation pay, paid sick time off or other accrued paid time off.
- Wage increases
With the economy humming along at a decent pace of growth and unemployment at record lows, employers should expect competition for talent to increase.
With quality personnel scarce, it’s expected that wages will rise, even though many economists had expected a faster rate of growth given the low unemployment rate and steady economic expansion.
The Society for Human Resources Management predicts that companies should expect to pay about 3% more in wages across all sectors. In high-demand fields, employers should expect to have to pay more than that to retain and attract talent. Those fields include health care, elderly care, engineering, hi-tech and construction.
- Expanded Anti-Harassment Training Requirements
As you probably know, current law requires employers with 50 or more workers to hold two hours of anti-sexual harassment training for supervisors every two years. The law and subsequent regulations by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing outline the training requirements.
A new law, SB 396, expands the subjects of that training to also include harassment based on gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.
The training must include specific examples of such harassment. This portion of the training must be presented by trainers with knowledge and expertise in these areas.
- Complying with ACA rules
The IRS has stepped up enforcement of Affordable Care Act compliance for not only the part that requires applicable large employers to provide coverage for their staff, but also the filing of IRS forms that verify compliance.
Besides being able to fine your organization for not complying with the law, it will also be fining employers that fail to file the forms or make mistakes in filing them.
Under the ACA, an employer can be fined $250 for each form that it fails to file or files late, as well as for forms with missing or incorrect information like names, birthdates or Social Security numbers. The maximum fine for these filing errors is $3 million per organization.
- No more salary history questions
Starting in 2018, AB 168 restricts the types of salary questions that employers in California can ask job applicants. In particular, employers may not ask prospective employees about their prior salaries at other employers.
The new law also bars employers from relying on prior salary history when deciding whether to hire someone and how much to pay them.
- Silica rules
Cal/OSHA began enforcing its new silica rules on Sept. 23, 2017 for the construction industry, and now the rules are in full effect for contractors and general industry, for which the rules took effect in late 2016.
Under the new silica standard, the permissible exposure limit is 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, compared to the old standard of 100.
All construction employers covered by the standard are required to:
- Establish and implement a written exposure control plan that identifies tasks that involve exposure and methods used to protect workers, including procedures to restrict access to work areas where high exposures may occur.
- Designate a competent person to implement the written exposure control plan.
- Restrict housekeeping practices that expose workers to silica where feasible alternatives are available.
- Sexual harassment trends and EPLI
With the wave of sexual harassment allegations sweeping the country – taking down public figures in politics, entertainment, business and the media – you can expect the trend to filter down from the spotlight to employers in all industries.
Employers have been in the cross hairs for sexual harassment and discrimination for years, but with more stories and the #metoo movement, there is likely to be an uptick in allegations against supervisors, managers and owners in businesses.
Now is the time to double down on anti-sexual harassment training, putting in place a robust reporting mechanism that shields the accused. If you don’t already have it, now is also the time to seriously consider an employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) policy.
- Worksite immigration enforcement and protections
The Immigrant Worker Protection Act (AB 450) provides workers with protection from immigration enforcement while on the job and imposes varying fines from $2,000 to $10,000 on employers that violate the law’s provisions.
This bill also makes it unlawful for employers to re-verify the employment eligibility of current employees in a time or manner not allowed by federal employment eligibility verification laws.
- Heat safety for indoor workers
Start preparing in 2018 for indoor heat illness regulations that are slated to come on Cal/OSHA’s books starting Jan. 1, 2019. A bill passed in 2016 requires that, by that date, the Division propose to the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board for review and adoption, a heat illness and injury prevention standard applicable to people working in indoor places of employment.
California has had an active outdoor workplace heat illness standard since 2006. Moreover, in the past several years Cal/OSHA and other agencies have initiated either training or enforcement to protect workers against indoor heat illness.
If you have vulnerable workers, you can use 2018 as the year to put safeguards in place for employees that work in high-heat indoor conditions.
The regulations will apply to:
- Indoor workplaces where the dry bulb temperature exceeds 90 degrees, or
- Where employees perform moderate, heavy or very heavy work and the dry bulb temperature exceeds 80 degrees.
- Criminal background checks
Starting in 2018, employers with five or more workers may not conduct a criminal background check prior to the offer of employment to an applicant.
If an employer does conduct a criminal check after an offer, it must make an individualized assessment whether a particular conviction has a direct and adverse relationship to the specific duties of the job that justify denying the applicant the position.
Also, if an employer decides not to hire someone based on information from a criminal check, the employer must notify the applicant of the decision in writing, and provide at least five business days to respond. The employer must then consider the applicant’s response before making a final decision.