United States: Legislative Update: Employment Bills Already Signed, Two Weeks Remain

Seyfarth Synopsis: Governor Jerry Brown has already signed into law legislation covering meal period exceptions for truck drivers delivering commercial feed, adding communications to be considered as "privileged" for purposes of defamation suits, removing a reference to the seven-day waiting period for disability benefits under the paid family leave program, and clarifying salary history information.

As temperatures begin to drop, with pumpkin spiced lattes and the smells of dew in the air, things are still heating up in the Governor's office. With only 16 days remaining in his signing period of his final term in office, the Governor has been active. This week he has been focused on bills covering climate—as he kicked off the Global Climate Action Summit on September 12 and recently signed bills blocking offshore oil drilling expansion, reducing carbon emissions, and setting a 100% clean electricity goal for the state. In addition, the Governor signed a much talked about bill, SB 954, requiring printed disclosures to mediation participants concerning mediation confidentiality.

While we're keeping an eye on all employment bills sitting on his desk, here's a quick recap of what he has already approved. All these new laws take effect January 1, 2019 unless otherwise stated.

Meal Periods. Sponsored by the California Grain and Feed Association, AB 2610 carves out an exemption to Labor Code 512 by allowing truck drivers who transport commercial feed (i.e., livestock feed) to "remote, rural areas" to take a meal period after the sixth hour if their regular rate of pay is at least one and a half times the state minimum wage and the driver is subject to overtime pay. Drivers must still be provided a second meal period at the tenth hour. The bill does not define "remote, rural areas," but bill sponsors point to factors such as road conditions – narrow, twisting, in higher elevations or mountainous regions; limited rest stops, closed rest stops, or lack of road space to safely take a meal period; and low average speeds (e.g., 40-50 mph).

Privileged Communications. AB 2770 amends Section 47 of the Civil Code to add three types of communications regarding sexual harassment that are now considered "privileged" communications—meaning they cannot be used as a basis for defamation claim—unless they are made with malice (i.e., statements made with complete disregard for the truth or false accusations made out of spite, ill will, or hatred towards the alleged harasser). Specifically, the bill protects:

  1. Reports of sexual harassment made by an employee to their employer based on credible evidence and without malice;
  2. Communications made without malice regarding the sexual harassment allegations between the employer and "interested persons" (such as witnesses or victims); and
  3. Non-malicious statements made to prospective employers as to whether a decision to rehire, or not, would be based on a determination that the former employee engaged in sexual harassment.

Paid Family Leave. Prior legislation that went into effect on January 1, 2018 removed the seven-day waiting period before an eligible employee may receive family temporary disability benefits (under the paid family leave program, which provides wage replacement benefits to workers who take time off work to care for a seriously ill family member or to bond with a minor child within one year of birth or placement). AB 2587 removes the seven-day waiting period reference in Section 33013.1 of the Unemployment Insurance Code, since the waiting period rule has been removed.

Salary History Information. This year's Fair Pay Act bill, AB 2282, was noted as sensible legislation that amends and clarifies ambiguities in Labor Code sections 432.3 and 1197.5 created by prior pay equity legislation—AB 1676 (Chaptered in 2016) and AB 168 (Chaptered in 2017). Read our in-depth analysis of AB 2282 here.

Immigration Status. SB 785, which went into effect upon the Governor's signing on May 17, 2018 with a January 1, 2020 sunset date, prohibits the disclosure of an individual's immigration status in open court in a civil or criminal action unless the party wishing to disclose the information requests a confidential in camera hearing and the judge deems the evidence relevant and admissible.

What other new laws will fall upon our Californian employers? We'll keep our eyes and ears glued to his office anxiously waiting to see what may fall next—fueled by our PSL coffees, of course. Stay tuned for our next in-depth update coming after Governor Brown's last day to sign or veto bills deadline of September 30th.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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