Top 10 California HR News Articles for 2018


Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP By Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP December 12, 2018

California HR professionals had to deal with quite a few changes this year: retail sales began for recreational marijuana, employers could no longer freely ask job applicants about their salary or criminal history, and many businesses had to comply with minimum-wage changes in their cities. This year's most-read SHRM Online articles on California developments covered these topics.

Other popular articles delved into compliance with pay-stub and meal-break rules. Here are the topics that piqued readers' interest in 2018.

1. Can California Employers Still Test for Marijuana?

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Recreational marijuana sales started in January, and many employers in the state wanted to know how legalization of the drug would affect their substance-abuse and drug-testing policies. Businesses can still test for the substance and take disciplinary action against workers who test positive, but employers should consider how state privacy laws, limitations on drug testing and changing attitudes about marijuana use may impact their policies. Employers should also note that they never have to tolerate on-the-job marijuana consumption or intoxication. They should handle recreational marijuana use like they do alcohol use, noted Walter Stella, an attorney with Miller Law Group in San Francisco.

2. California's Salary History Ban: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

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As of Jan. 1, California employers were no longer allowed to ask job applicants about their salary histories. Employers had questions about how the new law would affect their hiring practices, and this article answered some common inquiries. Employers are not prohibited from reaching out to a selected applicant's previous employer to verify prior salary after the applicant has been given a job offer, attorneys from Ogletree Deakins maintained. However, in certain jurisdictions, such as San Francisco, employers may not disclose the salary history of any current or former employee to a prospective employer without the employee's written authorization.

3. California Employers Must Navigate Range of Background Check Laws

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Employers that conduct background checks on job applicants in the Golden State must comply with a range of legal requirements—including federal rules, a state "ban-the-box" law that took effect in January and local ordinances. "Employers have to understand the laws in the jurisdictions in which they operate and make sure they're complying with them," said Paul Evans, an attorney with Morgan Lewis in Philadelphia. It's a good idea for employers to audit their background-check procedures to make sure they're getting everything right.

[SHRM members-only resource: Ban-the-Box Laws by State and Municipality]

4. Key Handbook Updates for 2018

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After all the big legal changes that took effect this year, it's no surprise that HR professionals in the state sought to update their employee handbooks. New laws required employers to revise applications and policies, put up new posters, and provide 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. 

5. Many Localities Raised Their Minimum-Wage Rates Midyear

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California's minimum-wage rate has been steadily rising at the beginning of each year, but a host of local jurisdictions have higher thresholds than the state. Those rates have been increasing in phases, and some changes took effect midyear. For example, Emeryville, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Monica raised their rates on July 1. And Berkeley employers had to bring their pay rates to at least $15 an hour by Oct. 1. Employers will have to comply with new requirements in 2019.

6. Common Pay Stub Errors Employers Should Avoid

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Wage and hour compliance issues are nothing new to California HR professionals. Even technical errors, such as failing to list certain information on pay statements, can get employers in trouble. "The most common mistakes tend to be technical … usually failing to include one of the various items of information that must be included on each itemized statement," said John Kuenstler, an attorney with Barnes & Thornburg in Los Angeles. It's critical for employers to understand pay-stub rules because failing to comply can lead to significant per-pay-period penalties. 

7. Hold Managers Accountable for Meal-Break Compliance

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California businesses have to make sure their employees have a chance to take meal and rest breaks. If they don't, the penalties can mount quickly. Meal breaks can be particularly tricky, but managers can help ensure that businesses comply with the state's requirements. Once they are trained, managers should be held accountable for violations. "Employers commonly hold their managers responsible for complying with and enforcing harassment and discrimination laws," said John Skousen, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Irvine. "There is no reason why similar policies should not apply to wage and hour laws as well, especially given the significant potential liability for negligent enforcement and systematic noncompliance."

8. How Do Pregnancy and Baby-Bonding Leave Laws Interact in California?

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California's myriad leave laws can make it difficult for employers to understand workers' eligibility for time off—particularly when it comes to pregnancy and baby-bonding leave. It can be challenging for HR professionals to understand how these laws work together and how to explain leave eligibility to employees in a way that makes sense, said Michelle Barrett Falconer, an attorney with Littler in San Francisco. She recommends that employers make a chart for each worker who is requesting leave because the visual display may be helpful.

9. California's New Contractor Test Will Impact the Gig Economy


In Dynamex Operations West v. Superior Court, the California Supreme Court adopted a three-factor test to determine whether workers are employees or independent contractors under the state's wage orders. The new test is more stringent than the old test, and employers in the gig economy will need to be particularly careful, as the new test could challenge business models that rely heavily on contractors' work. Some employers are hopeful that the Legislature will address the issue in 2019 and ease the requirements.

10. Common Reasons California Employers Get Sued

testimony.webpCalifornia has long provided fertile ground for employment lawsuits because the state has strict workplace rules that businesses must follow. Several rulings by the California Supreme Court in 2018, including the Dynamex decision, have made it even more likely that employers will get sued. This article takes a look at those cases and discusses what employers should know to help reduce the risk of litigation.


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