New CA laws toughen business COVID-19 outbreak reporting, expand family leave

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New California laws now in effect in the new year require businesses to provide more for their workforce amid ongoing economic challenges brought forth by the coronavirus pandemic, such as toughening rules requiring COVID-19 outbreak reporting and expanded family leave. 

California’s minimum wage is increasing to $14 per hour for employers with 26 or more workers and $13 for those with 25 or fewer employees. 

The figures differ per jurisdiction, however. In Los Angeles County’s unincorporated areas, such as Castaic and Stevenson Ranch and some portions of Newhall, the minimum increases to $15 for everyone on July 1. In Santa Clarita, the state’s increases are applied. 

The state has been incrementally increasing the minimum wage since 2017 and is expected to require a $15 an hour wage for all employees by 2023 despite economic challenges that have arisen as a result of the coronavirus crisis. 

“As we continue our efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, we must also ensure that as our economy recovers, all Californians can benefit in its growth,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a July statement. “Not allowing this increase to go forward will only make life harder for those Californians who have already borne a disproportionate share of the economic hardship caused by this pandemic.”

Here’s a look at some of the most relevant laws affecting businesses: 

Assembly Bill 685: COVID-19 and the workplace 

This new bill requires employers to notify employees who may have been exposed to COVID-19 at their worksite and provides the Division of Occupational Health and Safety, or Cal/OSHA, more power to enforce health and safety standards to prevent transmission of the virus in job sites. 

The law defines an outbreak as three or more cases per workplace and written notifications of potential exposures must be provided to each worker. Cal/OSHA may prevent entry to a place of employment or prohibit an operation should it deem there is a risk of infection. 

Senate Bill 1383: Expanded family leave

Under this law, businesses with five or more workers are now required to offer employees up to three months of unpaid job-protected leave to care for a domestic partner, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, or parent-in-law who has a serious health condition. 

Prior to SB 1383, only employees of companies with 50 workers or more were granted this amount of family leave. 

“Newly enacted federal leave tied to COVID-19 leaves out up to 80% of the workforce and expires at the end of the year, making this bill necessary to ensure California workers affected by the coronavirus can take time to care for themselves or a sick family member and keep their workplaces and communities healthy and safe,” read a statement by the bill’s author, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara.

AB 2257: Independent contractors 

After the passage of AB 5, which determines who is considered an independent contractor and who is an employee, efforts to install exceptions for certain occupations have come forth. Among them is AB 2257, which exempts professions such as musicians, writers, photographers and landscape architects. 

The bill, which took effect in September, also exempts business-to-business and referral agency services. 

AB 979: Diversity at corporations

By the end of 2021, companies must have at least one member in their board of directors from underrepresented communities, including racial or sexual minorities, under this law. That number must increase by three for boards with nine or more members and by two for those who have four to nine members by December 2022. 

Fines of $100,000 for the first violation to $300,000 for a subsequent violation could be issued for companies not complying, according to the bill. 

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