3 Key Updates for California Employee Handbooks

By Toni Vranjes February 11, 2020
employee handbook

​Employment laws are always changing, especially in California. That means businesses should be reviewing their employee handbooks and making any necessary updates.

Kimberly Jansen, an attorney with Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger in Irvine, pointed out three new state laws that employers should note:

  • SB 188, which bans hairstyle discrimination.
  • SB 142, which adds to lactation-accommodation requirements.
  • AB 1223, which expands leave for organ donation.

During the Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA) 2020 Legal Update in Anaheim, Jansen explained what each law means for employers.

1. Hairstyle-Discrimination Ban

SB 188 is intended to fight discrimination based on hairstyle and hair texture. It's known as the CROWN Act (The Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act).

"Professionalism was, and still is, closely linked to European features and mannerisms, which entails that those who do not naturally fall into Eurocentric norms must alter their appearances, sometimes drastically and permanently, in order to be deemed professional," the bill states.

According to the law, workplace policies that prohibit natural hair have a particularly negative impact on black applicants and black employees.

With this law now in effect, companies should update policies involving dress codes and appearance standards to protect against discrimination. They should also train managers to follow the law, Jansen said.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Equal Employment Opportunity]

2. Lactation-Accommodation Requirements

Existing law already required companies to provide employees with adequate time for expressing milk, as well as a private location to do so. Under SB 142, businesses also must ensure that the location is clean and safe and that there is access to electricity, a sink and a refrigerator. The location must have a surface on which to place a breast pump and personal items, and there needs to be a place to sit.

Employers that deny the necessary time or location for working mothers to express milk will be violating California law. Additionally, businesses can't retaliate against workers who take breaks in accordance with the law. "An employer shall not discharge, or in any other manner discriminate or retaliate against, an employee for exercising or attempting to exercise any right protected under [the legislation]," the bill states.

According to Jansen, it's another possible basis for a claim under the state's Private Attorneys General Act, which allows employees to pursue civil penalties for state labor code violations.

Companies with fewer than 50 workers can request an exemption if the business can show that complying with SB 142 would result in an undue hardship.

Employers must have a written lactation-accommodation policy, Jansen said, and they should distribute the policy at the time of hire and upon request.

3. Expanded Organ-Donation Leave

Prior to the passage of AB 1223, existing law mandated that companies give employees a paid leave of absence (up to 30 days in a 12-month period) for organ donation. The requirement applies to employers with 15 or more workers.

Now, businesses must provide additional unpaid leave (up to 30 days in a 12-month period) in these circumstances.

Jansen noted that workers can be required to use up to two weeks of accrued paid time off, vacation time or sick leave. Also, organ-donation leave doesn't need to be taken in one block, and it doesn't run concurrently with leave provided under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act or the California Family Rights Act.

Toni Vranjes is a freelance business writer in San Pedro, Calif.



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