United States: New California Employment Laws Expand Harassment Rules, Require Women On Boards

Seyfarth Synopsis: California Legislators sent Governor Jerry Brown 1,217 bills to consider in his final bill-signing period as Governor—more than any California governor has seen since 2004. The final tally: 1016 signed, 201 vetoed. Below is our full, final roundup of new laws that employers must comply with and the bills that fell to the Governor's veto pen. Even though the Governor's veto saved California employers from some truly awful legislation (such as AB 3080's attempted ban on employment arbitration agreements), 2019 may well bring a new Legislature just as hostile to business, and a new Governor not known for the practical caution that sometimes has characterized Governor Brown. We expect that the vetoed bills will re-emerge, and may receive a more favorable gubernatorial consideration.

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Sexual harassment bills

Human trafficking awareness — SB 970 requires hotel and motel employers (excluding bed and breakfast inns), to provide — by January 1, 2020, and once every two years thereafter — at least 20 minutes of interactive human trafficking awareness training to employees likely to interact with human trafficking victims. The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (FEHA) can seek an order requiring an employer comply with these requirements. Adds section 12950.3 to the Government Code.

Sexual harassment omnibus bill — SB 1300 adds a section to the Government Code that declares the purpose of harassment laws is to provide all Californians with equal opportunity to succeed in the workplace. To that end, the bill expressly affirms or rejects specified judicial decisions in:

  • Harris v. Forklift Systems: Approving the standard in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's concurrence that in a workplace harassment suit "the plaintiff need not prove that his or her tangible productivity has declined as a result of the harassment. It suffices to prove that a reasonable person subjected to the discriminatory conduct would find, as the plaintiff did, that the harassment so altered working conditions as to make it more difficult to do the job."
  • Brooks v. City of San Mateo: Prohibiting reliance on Judge Alex Kozinksi's Ninth Circuit opinion to determine what conduct is sufficiently severe or pervasive to constitute actionable harassment under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).
  • Reid v. Google, Inc.: Affirming the California Supreme Court's rejection of the "stray remarks doctrine," because the "existence of a hostile work environment depends on the totality of the circumstances and a discriminatory remark, even if made not directly in the context of an employment decision or uttered by a nondecisionmaker, may be relevant, circumstantial evidence of discrimination."
  • Kelley v. Conco Companies: Disapproving use of this case to support different standards for hostile work environment harassment depending on the type of workplace.
  • Nazir v. United Airlines, Inc: Affirming this case's observation that "hostile working environment cases involve issues 'not determinable on paper.' "

SB 1300 also:

  • Expands an employer's potential FEHA liability for acts of non-employees to all forms of unlawful harassment (removing the "sexual" limitation).
  • Prohibits employers from requiring an employee to sign (as a condition of employment, raise, or bonus): (1) a release of FEHA claims or rights or (2) a document prohibiting disclosure of information about unlawful acts in the workplace, including non-disparagement agreements. This provision does not apply to negotiated settlement agreements to resolve FEHA claims filed in court, before administrative agencies, alternative dispute resolution, or though the employer's internal complaint process.
  • Prohibits a prevailing defendant from being awarded attorney's fees and costs unless the court finds the action was frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless when brought or that the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly became so.
  • Authorizes (but does not require) employers to provide bystander intervention training to its employees.

SB 1300 amends Government Code sections 12940, 12965 and adds Government Code sections 12923, 12950.2, 12964.5.

Sex harassment settlement agreement confidentiality restrictions — For settlement agreements entered into on or after January 1, 2019, SB 820 will prohibit and make void any provision that prevents the disclosure of information related to civil or administrative complaints of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and workplace harassment or discrimination based on sex. SB 820 expressly authorizes provisions that (1) preclude the disclosure of the amount paid in settlement and (2) protect the claimant's identity and any fact that could reveal the identity, so long as the claimant has requested anonymity and the opposing party is not a government agency or public official. SB 820 suggests that a violation of its provisions would give rise to a cause of action for civil damages. Adds section 1001 to the Code of Civil Procedure.

Banning waivers of rights to testify — As to any contract or settlement agreement entered into on or after January 1, 2019, SB 3109 makes void and unenforceable any provision that waives a party's right to testify in a legal proceeding (if required or requested by court order, subpoena or administrative or legislative request) regarding criminal conduct or sexual harassment on the part of the other contracting party, or the other party's agents or employees. Adds section 1670.11 to the Civil Code.

Strengthening prohibitions against harassment with respect to professional relationships — SB 224 gives additional examples of professional relationships where liability for claims of sexual harassment may arise and authorizes the DFEH to investigate those circumstances. Amends section 51.9 of the Civil Code and section 12930 and 12948 of the Government Code.

Requiring sexual harassment education by talent agencies — AB 2338 requires talent agencies to provide adult artists, parents or legal guardians of minors aged 14-17, and age-eligible minors, within 90 days of retention, educational materials on sexual harassment prevention, retaliation, and reporting resources. For adult model artists only, the talent agency will be required to provide materials on nutrition and eating disorders. Talent agencies will also have to retain, for three years, records showing that those educational materials were provided. Adds Article 4 (commencing with Section 1700.50) to Chapter 4 of Part 6 of Division 2 of the Labor Code.

Expanding scope of required sexual harassment training — SB 1343 requires an employer of five or more employees — including seasonal and temporary employees — to provide certain sexual harassment training by January 1, 2020. Within six months of their assuming their position (and once every two years thereafter), all supervisors must receive at least two hours of training, and all nonsupervisory employees must receive at least one hour. SB 1343 also requires the DFEH to make available a one-hour and a two-hour online training course employers may use and to make the training videos, existing informational posters, fact sheets, and online training courses available in multiple languages. Amends sections 12950 and 12950.1 of the Government Code.

Requiring sexual harassment education for in-home support services — AB 3082 requires the Department of Social Services to develop or identify — and provide a copy and description to the Legislature by September 30, 2019 — (1) educational materials addressing sexual harassment of in-home supportive services (IHSS) providers and recipients, and (2) a method to collect data on the prevalence of sexual harassment in the IHSS program. Adds section 12318 to the Welfare & Institutions Code.

Non-harassment bills

Lactation location — AB 1976 requires employers to make reasonable efforts to provide a room or location (that is not a bathroom, deleting "toilet stall" and inserting "bathroom") for lactation. The also bill authorizes a temporary lactation location if certain conditions are met and provides a narrow undue hardship exemption. The Governor vetoed the similar, more onerous, SB 937, discussed below. Amends section 1031 of the Labor Code.

Pay statement: Right to receive — Stating it is declaratory of existing law, SB 1252 provides employees the right "to receive" a copy of—not just inspect or copy — their pay statements. Amends section 226 of the Labor Code.

Rest breaks in petroleum facilities — AB 2605 exempts from rest-period requirements certain workers who hold "safety-sensitive positions," defined as a position whose duties reasonably include responding to emergencies in the facility and carry communication devices. The exemption applies only to workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement and subject to Industrial Wage Commission Wage Order No. 1. But employers must pay exempted workers one hour of pay at the regular rate if the rest period is interrupted to respond to an emergency. Because AB 2605 is an urgency statute, these provisions took effect immediately when approved by the Governor on September 20, 2018 and will sunset on January 1, 2021. The author of this bill sought to carve out an exemption for these positions in light of the recent Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc. case. Adds section 226.75 to the Labor Code.

Port drayage motor carries — SB 1402 requires the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement to post a list on its website of port drayage motor carriers with any unsatisfied judgment or assessment or any "order, decision, or award" finding illegal conduct as to various wage/hour issues, specifically including independent contractor misclassification and derivative claims. This bill also extends joint and several liability to the customers of these drayage motor carriers for their future wage violations of the same nature. Adds section 2810.4 to the Labor Code.

Contractor liability — Passed as an urgency statute to make clarifying changes to last year's AB 1701—which created joint liability for construction contractors and subcontractors — AB 1565 immediately repeals the express provision that relieved direct contractors for liability for anything other than unpaid wages and fringe or other benefit payments or contributions including interest owed. For contracts entered into on or after January 1, 2019, the direct contractor must specify what documents and information the subcontractor must provide in order to withhold a disputed payment. Amends section 218.7 of the Labor Code.

Criminal history — SB 1412 requires employers to consider only a "particular conviction" ("for specific criminal conduct or a category of criminal offenses prescribed by any federal law, federal regulation, or state law that contains requirements, exclusions, or both, expressly based on that specific criminal conduct or category of criminal offenses") relevant to the job when screening applicants using a criminal background check. Amends section 432.7 of the Labor Code.

Women on boards — SB 826 requires California-based publicly held corporations to have on their board of directors at least one female — defined as people who self-identify as women, regardless of their designated sex at birth. The deadline for compliance is December 31, 2019. A corporation may need to increase its authorized number of directors to comply with this requirement. The bill imposes minimum seat requirements that must be filled by women, proportional to the total number of seats, by December 31, 2021. The Secretary of State must publish a report by July 1, 2019 of the number of corporations whose principal executive offices are in California and have at least one female director, and an annual report beginning March 1, 2020, detailing the number of corporations that (1) complied with requirements in 2019, (2) moved their headquarters in or out of California, and (3) were subject to these provisions during 2019, but no longer publicly traded.

For each director's seat not held by a female during at least a portion of the calendar year — when by law it should have been — the corporation will be subject to a $100,000 fine for the first violation and a $300,000 fine for further violations. Corporations that fail to timely file board member information with the Secretary of State will also be subject to a $100,000 fine. Adds sections 301.3 and 2115.5 to the Corporations Code.

Mediation confidentiality — SB 954 requires attorneys, except in class actions, to provide their mediating clients with a written disclosure containing the confidentiality restrictions provided in Section 1119 of the Evidence Code and obtain the client's written acknowledgment that the client has read and understands the confidentiality restrictions. This duty arises as soon as reasonably possible before the client agrees to participate in mediation or a mediation consultation. The bill is of little consequence as an attorney's failure to comply is not a basis to set aside an agreement prepared in or pursuant to a mediation. Amends Evidence Code section 1122 and adds Evidence Code section 1129.

Vetoed

Banning contractual limits on disclosure and arbitration agreements — AB 3080would have prohibited businesses from requiring, as a condition of employment, employment benefit, or contract (1) that a job applicant or employee waive any right, forum, or procedure (e.g., arbitration) for a violation of FEHA or the Labor Code, and (2) that a job applicant, employee, or independent contractor not disclose instances of sexual harassment suffered, witnessed, or discovered in the work place or in performance of the contract, opposing unlawful practices, or participating in harassment and discrimination related investigations or proceedings. Biting their fingernails into the night on the Governor's signing deadline, to employers' relief, Governor Brown vetoed the bill.

The Governor stated he was compelled to veto this bill because it "plainly violates federal law." He remained consistent with his veto of a similar bill in 2015, in which he referred to recent court decisions that invalidated state policies that impeded arbitration and stated his desire to watch future US Supreme Court decisions on the topic before "endorsing a broad ban on mandatory arbitration agreements." He stated that the "direction from the Supreme Court since my earlier veto has been clear — states must follow the Federal Arbitration Act and the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Act," citing DIRECTV, Inc. v. Imburgia; and Kindred Nursing Centers Ltd. Partnership v. Clark to reject this bill's premise "that the Act governs only the enforcement and not the initial formation of arbitration agreements."

Expanding record retention — AB 1867 would have required employers with 50 or more employees to maintain records of complaints alleging sexual harassment for at least five years after the last date of employment of the complainant or alleged harasser, whichever is later. In his veto message, the Governor sagely noted this bill could lead to the retention of records for decades and could require complaints alleging sexual harassment to be maintained for the same amount of time regardless of the result of the investigative process. For those reasons, and because existing law requires personnel records, including records of complaints, be maintained "for suitable periods of time," the Governor found the time expansion of this bill unwarranted.

Expanding administrative charge filing deadlines — AB 1870 would have extended a complainant's time to file an administrative charge with the DFEH from one year to three years after the alleged incident for all types of FEHA-prohibited conduct, including sexual harassment. In vetoing this bill, Governor Brown found the current filing deadline, in place since 1963, "not only encourages prompt resolution while memories and evidence are fresh, but also ensures that unwelcome behavior is promptly reported and halted."

Extending liability for employers and for businesses using labor contractors — AB 3081 would have amended the FEHA and Labor Code to (1) add status as a sexual harassment victim to existing prohibitions on discrimination against employees who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, (2) create a rebuttable presumption of unlawful retaliation if an employer, within 30 days of notice of the victim's status, discharges or threatens to discharge, demotes, suspends, or otherwise discriminates against a victim employee, (3) make a business jointly liable for harassment of workers supplied by the business's labor contractor (existing law similarly extends liability for the contractor's failure to pay wages and obtain valid workers' compensation coverage), (4) prohibit businesses from shifting to their labor contractors duties or liabilities under the Labor Code workers' compensation insurance provisions. Governor Brown rejected the bill on the basis that most of its provisions are unnecessary as already contained in current law, or, if new, are confusing.

Immigration documents — AB 2732 would have subjected to penalties employers that destroy or withhold passports or other immigration documents, and required all employers to provide a "Worker's Bill of Rights" (to be developed by the DIR) to all employees. AB 2732 also would have made various changes to the Property Service Worker Protection Act, contingent upon this bill's and AB 2079's passing. In a lesson to narrowly tailor bills, Governor Brown found the "provision of this bill that prohibits employers from withholding immigration documents from workers is very appropriate," but still struck down this entire bill due to its "burdensome and unwarranted" mandate that all employers, even those having nothing to do with labor trafficking, provide the "Worker's Bill of Rights' to every employee in California. "This goes too far."

Lactation accommodations — SB 937would have required employers to (1) provide a lactation room with prescribed features and access to a sink and refrigerator (or another cooling device suitable for storing milk) in close proximity to the employee's workspace, (2) develop and distribute to employees a lactation accommodation policy, and (3) maintain accommodation request records for three years and allow the employee and Labor Commissioner access to the records. SB 937 would have also deemed the denial of time or space for lactation a failure to provide a rest period under Labor Code section 226.7, and required the DLSE to create a model lactation policy and a model lactation accommodation request form. Having signed AB 1976 to further "the state's ongoing effort to support working mothers and their families," Governor Brown vetoed this bill as not necessary.

Property service worker protection act amendments — Governor Brown vetoed two bills (AB 2732, discussed above, and AB 2079) to amend the Property Service Worker Protection Act, which went into effect July 1, 2018 (AB 1978), and imposes requirements to combat wage theft and sexual harassment for the janitorial industry.

In his veto message, the Governor urged AB 2079's authors and sponsors to allow the Act — "the first of its kind in the country" — to be fully implemented before proposing significant changes.

AB 2079 would have required (1) all employers applying for new or renewed registration to demonstrate completion of sexual harassment violence prevention requirements and provide an attestation to the Labor Commissioner, (2) the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) to convene an advisory committee to develop requirements for, and maintain a list of, qualified organizations and peer-trainers for employers to use in providing training, and (3) employers, upon request, to provide requesting employees a copy of all training materials. AB 2079 would have also prohibited the Labor Commissioner from approving a janitorial service employer's request for registration or for renewal if the employer had not fully satisfied a final judgment to a current or former employee for a violation of the FEHA.

Janitorial workers employment classification — AB 2496 would have established a rebuttable presumption that janitorial workers who perform services for property service employers are employees, not independent contractors. Governor Brown vetoed the bill as premature, pending Legislature review of the California Supreme Court decision in in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court, which recently established a new test to determine whether a worker is properly classified as an employee or independent contractor.

Veterans and military personnel. Governor Brown vetoed SB 1427, which would have added veterans and military personnel as a protected class under the FEHA, because the bill's other, non-employment-related provisions went "too far."

Construction industry harassment and discrimination — SB 1223 would have required the DIR to convene an advisory committee to recommend minimum standards for a harassment and discrimination prevention policy and training program specific to the construction industry, and to report to the Legislature specific implementation recommendations. Governor Brown vetoed this bill as better placed with the DFEH — responsible for enforcing the FEHA and its harassment and discrimination prevention and training requirements — not the Labor Commissioner.

This article was originally published on the Seyfarth Shaw California Peculiarities Employment Law Blog. It was edited for length.

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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