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Employers need to pay particular attention to their hiring policies and practices
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California employers should be aware that an active state legislature in 2017 resulted in significant changes for the workplace—which means employers should review their handbooks to make sure policies are up to date.
"Most of the significant new employment laws are effective on Jan. 1, 2018, so employers should be preparing now to ensure full compliance by the New Year," said Michael Nader, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Sacramento. The new laws require employers to revise applications and policies, put up new posters, and provide new training for managers and supervisors.
With today's rapidly changing environment in the workplace, handbook reviews and updates should be part of the annual drill, said Bruce Sarchet, an attorney with Littler in Sacramento.
January is a popular time for new standards to be rolled out, so employers may want to get employees into a routine of reviewing updates and signing acknowledgements around that time every year, he suggested, noting that employers should give workers ample time to review changes before they sign an acknowledgement.
Here are some of the key handbook policies and procedures employers may need to revise for 2018.
1. Hiring Practices
"The onboarding process has been changed forever in California," Sarchet said. Two of the biggest state-law changes for 2018—a ban on pay history inquiries and a "ban-the-box" law—will require employers to modify their policies and likely revise their handbooks, too.
Under A.B. 168, employers will no longer be able to ask job applicants about their current or prior salaries. Employers will also have to provide the pay scale for a position upon a job applicant's request.
Employers should provide written guidelines and training for their recruiters, hiring managers and other employees involved in the interview process that prohibits them from asking about or eliciting salary history information from candidates—including information about their incentive compensation or benefits package, Nader said.
Application documents should also be free of any questions about salary history. Employers may consider asking candidates about their salary expectations for the position sought, which is not necessarily related to a candidate's salary history, Nader added.
California's new ban-the-box law, A.B. 1008, will prohibit employers with at least five workers from considering a job applicant's criminal history until a conditional employment offer is made. If the employer decides to deny employment based on an applicant's criminal history, certain steps must be followed and notices must be supplied to the applicant before reaching a final decision.
Criminal history questions should not be on the job application, and all staff involved in the recruitment and hiring process should receive training and written instructions to refrain from asking any such questions at the pre-offer stage, Nader said.
2. Wage and Hour Policies
California law sets very specific times when nonexempt employees are entitled to take meal and rest breaks during their shifts and also stipulates when those breaks can be waived and what activities employees can be required to do during breaks—if any.
"In response to new laws, court decisions, and Labor Commissioner enforcement initiatives, California employers should review their meal and rest break policies and other wage and hour policies and practices to ensure compliance," Nader said.
[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: What are the meal and rest break requirements for California employees?]
A new law for 2018, S.B. 306, authorizes the California Labor Commissioner to initiate investigations into whether an employer has retaliated against employees for exercising certain employment rights. The Labor Commissioner has also ramped up enforcement audits to review an employer's time and payroll records for labor law violations, Nader said. "These policies should also be reviewed to ensure full compliance."
3. Sexual Harassment Training
Businesses with 50 or more employees must add content to their supervisor sexual harassment training about gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation harassment prevention.
"Those three protected classifications should be expressly addressed in the harassment prevention policy, and the related training component must include specific examples that illustrate such harassment," Nader said.
The new law also requires all employers to display a "Transgender Rights in the Workplace" poster that was recently developed by the state Department of Fair Housing and Employment.
Compliance in this area is particularly important because of the media's intense attention to sexual harassment, Sarchet said. "It would not surprise me to see sexual harassment training for all employees required in the near future," he added.
4. Parental Leave Entitlement
California businesses with 20-49 employees within a 75-mile radius of one another will need to provide eligible workers with up to 12 weeks of baby-bonding leave. The leave period can be unpaid, but employers must continue to provide health care coverage.
In many ways, the new law tracks the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and the California Family Rights Act, but it applies only to leave for baby bonding, Sarchet said. He noted that covered employers must establish a leave program, which has to be added to the handbook.
5. Attendance Policies
California employers must comply with statewide paid-sick-leave requirements as well as any applicable city or county laws. In March of 2017, the California Labor Commissioner issued answers to frequently asked questions, which provide that an employer cannot discipline employees for taking accrued paid sick leave. Therefore, employers should review their attendance policies to confirm that they are complying with paid-sick-leave rules, Nader said.
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