Cities in California and Beyond Continue to Expand Workplace Protections


By Toni Vranjes September 11, 2019

LONG BEACH—As the federal government focuses on deregulatory actions, California municipalities have moved forward with local laws that provide more protections for employees.

Cities and counties in the Golden State have set their own minimum wages and made their own rules about paid sick leave, criminal-background screening, predictable work schedules and more.

But the explosion of local laws isn't just happening in California, noted Michele Ballard Miller and Walter Stella, attorneys with Cozen O'Connor. Laws are being passed at the local level around the country, and they are creating a "nightmare" for HR professionals, who must figure out how to comply, Miller said during the recent Professionals in Human Resources Association 2019 California HR Conference.

Minimum Wage

Though the federal minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour for the last decade, many state and local governments have set higher rates.

In January, the California minimum wage reached $12 an hour for companies with at least 26 workers, and $11 an hour for smaller businesses.

To boost residents' incomes, local jurisdictions have enacted their own laws. In San Francisco, for example, the local minimum wage increased to $15.59 per hour in July. Businesses must pay this rate to employees who work at least two hours per week in San Francisco.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Complying with California Wage Payment and Hours of Work Laws]

Los Angeles has its own minimum-wage law that depends on the size of the employer. The current wage is $14.25 an hour for companies with at least 26 employees. For businesses with 25 or fewer employees, the hourly rate is $13.25.

There are also local laws governing the minimum wage in many other California locations, including San Diego, Santa Monica and Emeryville.

Paid Sick Leave

Under California's paid-sick-leave law, covered employees may take 24 hours or three days of sick leave a year.

On the local level, cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco have their own paid-sick-leave rules that afford more paid time off to eligible workers.

Other cities have also jumped on the paid-sick-leave bandwagon, Stella noted, including Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, Santa Monica and San Diego. So employers need to carefully review the rules' variations in the cities where they operate.

Criminal-Background Checks

"Ban-the-Box" laws have been taking hold across the country, Miller noted, limiting employers' ability to ask job candidates about their criminal history until a certain stage of the hiring process has been reached. The idea is that there are many people who have paid their dues to society, and now they should be able to find gainful employment, she said.

Under California's ban-the-box law, covered employers generally aren't allowed to inquire about criminal background until after they make a conditional job offer. If an employer wants to reject a job applicant based on criminal history, the state law requires the company to first examine whether the person's criminal background is relevant to the job.

Many localities have passed ban-the-box laws, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. Employers should be aware of the many nuances in these local laws.

Predictable Work Schedules

Many employees have fluctuating work schedules, and they often struggle to balance their work obligations with family responsibilities.

Under the San Francisco Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance, employees can request predictable or flexible work schedules so they can care for their children and other relatives. The law applies to businesses with at least 20 employees. Covered employers must follow strict procedures for responding to these requests.

There are similar laws in Berkeley and Emeryville.

San Francisco-Only Ordinances

San Francisco lawmakers continue to chart their own path with laws requiring covered employers to meet the following obligations:

  • Spend a minimum amount on health care benefits.
  • Provide supplemental compensation to eligible workers who receive state paid-family-leave benefits to care for a new child.
  • Provide lactation breaks, meet specific standards for lactation-accommodation rooms and develop relevant workplace policies.
  • Provide employees with commuter benefits.

Staying Up-to-Date

It takes a lot of effort to keep up with the all the local employment laws, said conference attendee Brandi Prinz, an HR professional at Staples Energy Services in Bakersfield.

"There are a lot of laws, so it is intimidating," Prinz told SHRM Online. "So I'm trying to learn as much as possible and keep up-to-date."


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