Signal Staff Writer
State employment laws have only gotten trickier to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, business owners were told Monday as the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce held its annual Employment Law Update in person for the first time since the pandemic began.
Brian Koegle, a partner at Poole Shaffery & Koegle, LLP, spoke to an audience of mainly small-business owners and members of the SCV Chamber of Commerce about the latest updates in employment law, COVID-19 regulations, and new federal and state regulations.
“If you don’t get it right, you might be going to jail.”
Koegle started with the minimum wage of Los Angeles County, which is $15 per hour if you have 16 or more employees. He said the responsibility lies with the employer, not the employee, to be updated regarding the latest state and county wage regulations. He spoke about the differences in federal and state minimum salary requirements, as well as computer-related occupations.
A written job description, he said, is crucial and must be updated regularly. Here, too, the burden lies with the employer. This includes an employee handbook to ensure “that your policies are consistent with what you’re actually doing in practice,” which could come in handy especially during possible litigation.
While talking about wage and hour requirements, he reminded the employers to keep updated data. Rounding off employee hours worked is permitted — however, it is never permitted for meal periods. Meal and rest periods must be paid at “regular rate of pay,” he added. He also reminded that employers with more than a hundred employees must file a pay data report with state agencies.
In California, those who have 100 or more employees must file a pay data report with the state of California Labor Commissioner’s Office before March 31. The failure to do so could result in a $100-per-day penalty for each day. Any employer who doesn’t have specific and detailed pay data, and job descriptions to match the pay data, will be out of compliance.
Meal and rest periods, he said, are a grey area. This means that employers must be vigilant about their employees’ checking in and checking out times.
“When someone is clocking in and out for the day, there should be four punches on every employee’s time clock every single day,” he added. “If you’re missing punches, you need to make sure you’re going back and filling those in with the employee as quickly as possible.”
The other big issue for the post-pandemic era has been reimbursing expenses since many employees had to work from home. He said employers now have an automatic obligation to reimburse things like home internet, work-related cellphone communication, even a new keyboard or office supplies.
Moreover, employers must be cognizant of the need to reimburse an employee for using his or her personal vehicle for office work. He recommended using the IRS reimbursable rate for 2022, which is 58.5 cents per mile for business travel. This, he reminded, could increase because of increasing gas prices.
Talking about independent contractors, he reminded the audience that Assembly Bill 5 – which codifies standards and clarifies exemptions regarding whether a worker is classified as an employee or an independent contractor – went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. It’s important to classify employees and independent contractors correctly, and to ensure they meet the corresponding legal requirements. If an employer has any control over the employee’s working hours and conditions, “they are your employees, they are not independent contractors.”
COVID-19 disrupted small and large businesses without discrimination. Compliance to post-COVID measures has never been more important, he said, while talking about the confusion and ever-changing vaccine regulations. California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) has an emergency temporary standard, which continues to April 22, and is expected to be extended to Sept. 30.
Every business, regardless of size, must maintain written policies and protocols regarding COVID-19 rules including “how you’re dealing with exposure in the workplace, how you’re dealing with cleaning, what you’re going to do in the event of an outbreak,” and what an employee should do in the event they or someone near them gets sick. If nothing else, he recommends sharing the Centers for Disease Control guidelines. “It’s better than nothing.”
The state of California has reimposed the COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave that was in place back in 2021. “It is a mandated paid sick leave,” in addition to the 2014 Healthy Workplace Healthy Family Act of 2014, which requires employers to provide paid sick leave to all employees if they’re working 30 hours or more per year.
Technically, last year, there was 80 hours of paid sick leave per employee. Employees are entitled to 40 hours of paid sick leave. If somebody tests positive, yourself or an immediate family member you need to care for, then the second 40 hours will apply, but it’s only in the event of a positive test that the second 40 hours kicks in. Otherwise, only 40 hours of paid leave must be provided.
If someone missed work at the beginning of this year, due to a COVID-19-related issue, the employer has an obligation to go back and credit them for that time. The maximum that an employee can receive in a day, however, remains $511 per day.
He reminded the employers to understand the nuances of isolating and quarantine, with or without a positive COVID-19 test. Elaborating on supplemental paid sick leave, he said anyone with a positive test is entitled to the hours under the quarantine requirements. It depends on whether they’re vaccinated or not to assess how long they must quarantine. If there is no COVID-19 test, the employer is only required to pay 40 hours of paid sick leave.
Answering questions from the audience – primarily focused on meal and rest breaks, mealtime waivers and IRS reimbursement standards – he said employers must stay vigilant about changing rules and new legislation.