5 Workplace Compliance Issues for Northern California

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California is known for its abundance of workplace laws and regulations—and compliance gets particularly complicated for businesses in the northern part of the state that must follow more stringent local rules.

"Employers in Northern California are still adapting to several new workplace laws unique to the area," said Elizabeth Stonhaus, an attorney with Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck in San Francisco.

Employers have to be very conscious of all the laws that pertain to their jurisdictions, said Benjamin Ebbink, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Sacramento. "Keeping up with the local ordinances can be quite a challenge, and I definitely recommend touching base with counsel."

Here are some of the top Northern California-specific compliance issues that employers should note.

1.    Minimum-Wage Hikes

Many Northern California cities have increased or plan to increase their minimum wages to rates that exceed the statewide minimum, which is currently $11.00 an hour for businesses with 26 or more employees and $10.50 an hour for those with fewer.

San Francisco's minimum wage will increase to $15 an hour on July 1, and the following Northern California cities either raised their minimum wage on Jan. 1 or will increase their rate later in 2018:

Berkeley$15.00 (effective Oct. 1)
Cupertino$13.50
Emeryville $15.69 for employers with at least 56 employees and $15.00 for all others (effective July 1)
Los Altos $13.50
Mountain View$15.00
Oakland$13.23
Palo Alto$13.50
Richmond$13.42
San Jose$13.50
San Leandro$13.00 (effective July 1)
San Mateo$13.50
Santa Clara$13.00
Sunnyvale$15.00

Complying with wage ordinances can be quite a challenge, particularly for businesses with workers who travel to multiple jurisdictions—like home-repair technicians, Ebbink said, noting that each ordinance is a little different. For example, some say that the employer has to have a location in the city to be covered, and others say that employees are covered if they worked for more than two hours per week in the city.

2.    Predictable Scheduling and Opportunity to Work

Predictable scheduling is the next big issue, according to Ebbink. During the last several years, San Francisco and Emeryville have rolled out predictive

scheduling ordinances. The ordinances apply to large retail businesses and require employers to provide workers with their schedules at least two weeks in advance, and may require employers to compensate workers for changes to their schedules, Stonhaus explained.

These ordinances also require employers to offer available hours to existing part-time employees before hiring new workers. San Jose's Opportunity to Work Ordinance also requires employers with 36 or more workers to offer additional work hours to existing part-time employees before hiring new employees, subcontractors or temporary workers. State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, has been trying to pass a statewide opportunity-to-work law, but her efforts have been unsuccessful so far. "The Opportunity to Work Act will provide a boost to the millions of workers in California who want to work more so they can afford the necessities of life and to take care of themselves and their families in a time when housing costs, student debt, and surprise expenses are increasingly difficult to manage," she said in a press statement.

Under Berkeley's Family Friendly and Environment Friendly Workplace Ordinance, which took effect March 2017 for businesses with 10 or more employees, workers may request a flexible or predictable work schedule when they are caring for a new child or ill family member, Stonhaus noted.

3.    Paid Family Leave

San Francisco's Paid Parental Leave Ordinance took effect Jan. 1 and applies to employers with 20 or more workers. Covered businesses must provide up to six weeks of supplemental compensation to employees who receive state paid-family-leave benefits for baby bonding.

The state wage replacement plus the supplemental compensation equals 100 percent of the employee's gross weekly wage, Stonhaus explained. To receive the supplemental compensation, employees must satisfy a number of requirements provided by the ordinance, she noted.

4.    Paid Sick Leave

In addition to a statewide paid-sick-leave law, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland and San Francisco have their own ordinances that require employers to provide workers with paid time off to care for their own or a family member's illness or injury. Each law has nuances, so employers need to carefully review their policies and practices for compliance.  

A statewide bill, A.B. 2841, has been proposed to increase the amount of paid sick leave employees can accrue in a year, but the bill doesn't include any language that would pre-empt local ordinances, said Michael Kalt, an attorney with Wilson Turner Kosmo in San Diego and the director of government affairs for the California State Council of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). So that means employers must continue to ensure compliance with all state and local requirements. If there are conflicting rules, employers should generally follow the ones that are most favorable to the employee.

[SHRM members-only resource: Leave Laws by State and Municipality]

Congress is considering a federal bill to expand paid-leave and workplace-flexibility opportunities. Developed with the support of SHRM members, the bill would give employees more options and flexibility when taking time off to meet their individual and family needs, while providing predictability for employers who now face overlapping state and local requirements.

5.    Lactation-Accommodation Requirements

Though there are federal and state lactation-accommodation rules, San Francisco has a more expansive ordinance, which took effect Jan. 1. The ordinance requires all San Francisco employers to provide a private lactation location that:

  • Is not a bathroom.
  • Is free from intrusion by other employees or the public.
  • Is available as needed.
  • Is located close proximity to the employees' work area.
  • Is safe, clean, and free of toxic or hazardous materials.
  • Has a place to sit.
  • Has a surface to place a breast pump and personal items.
  • Provides access to electricity.
  • Contains a sink with running water.

The employer must provide a refrigerator and a sink with running water that is clos to the employee's work area, Stonhaus noted.

The California Legislature is considering a bill, S.B. 937, which would expand the statewide workplace lactation-accommodation requirements. The proposal includes some of the more specific requirements adopted in the San Francisco ordinance, Kalt said, noting that the bill overwhelmingly passed the California Assembly. 

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