For the last several years, the California legislature ushered in a multitude of labor and employment laws, taking aim at controversial employer practices and furthering a pro-employee public policy. 2021 proved no different, with several bills making it out of the Capitol that are bound to affect employers going forward.
Here are three key bills – all taking effect Jan. 1, 2022 – that employers should know.
The Silenced No More Act (SB 331)
Since #MeToo, the legislature has focused on protecting employees from sexual harassment and related crimes in the workplace, and ensuring they are not prevented from speaking up. Enter SB 331, known as the Silenced No More Act.
SB 331 expands upon California’s Stand Together Against Non-Disclosures (STAND) Act, which prohibits non-disclosure provisions in certain settlement agreements related to sexual harassment. The new law doubles down on the existing provisions, outlawing terms within any agreement that prevent or restrict the disclosure of factual information of claims related to harassment, discrimination, and retaliation of any protected class.
SB 331 presents several expanded restrictions:
- Parties to a settlement agreement may not prevent or restrict an individual from disclosing the underlying factual information relating to all claims of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation under the FEHA, including but not limited to race, sexual orientation, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, disability, medical condition, and age.
- Employee cannot be required to sign a non-disparagement agreement that would deny the employee the right to disclose information about unlawful acts in the workplace.
Warehouse Regulation Quotas (AB 701)
Introduced by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, AB 701 is one of the biggest pieces of legislation from the 2021 session. While the law was drafted to curtail alleged practices of certain online retailers, it will impact many warehouses across California and their use of quotas.
AB 701 applies to employers with 100 or more employees at a single warehouse distribution center, or 1,000 or more employees at one or more “warehouse distribution centers” in the state of California. The law requires employers to disclose quotas and pace-of-work standards to each employee upon hire or within 30 days of the law going into effect.
Additionally, employers must provide “a written description of each quota to which the employee is subject to, including the quantified number of tasks to be performed or materials to be produced or handled, within a defined period of time, and any potential adverse employment action that may result from failure to meet the quota.” Employees are not required to meet quotas that prevent compliance with laws governing meal or rest periods, use of bathroom facilities, or occupational health and safety.
Wage Theft (AB 1003)
Another bill from Assemblymember Gonzalez, AB 1003 seeks to punish employers for stealing employees’ wages. The law makes the intentional theft of wages in an amount greater than $950 from any one employee, or $2,350, in the aggregate, from two or more employees, in any 12 consecutive month period, punishable as grand theft, an alternative felony or “wobbler."
Each year, more than 30,000 workers in California file wage claims, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only further exacerbated the financial vulnerability of low-wage workers. AB 1003 seeks to deter intentional wage theft with the threat of criminal liability, in addition to allowing employees to recover wage benefits and other compensation in a civil action.
Employment law is constantly changing in California, and it’s no different as we start 2022. Employers will want to review and update their handbooks and policies in compliance with the new laws. Employers may also want to consider a formal training for managers and supervisors regarding primary wage and hour issues. With respect to the Silenced No More Act, employers should review their settlement agreements and related protocols carefully to ensure compliance.
As always, California employers should consult legal counsel to discuss best practices and strategy for complying with the myriad of new laws.