by Tal K. Taylor
Governor Newsom just enacted several pieces of legislation that will impact many California employers, including banning mandatory arbitration agreements, expanding lactation accommodation requirements, and increasing the time employees have to file certain workplace complaints.
Banning Mandatory Arbitration Agreements
Beginning on January 1, 2020, employers will no longer be able to require their employees to sign arbitration agreements as a condition of new or continued employment, or as a condition of the receipt of company benefits. Such agreements, which have become common in the employment setting, currently require workers to waive their ability to sue their employers for various labor violations in civil court, instead forcing employees to submit employment claims to a neutral, private arbiter. This is disappointing news for many employers— arbitrations tend to be their preferred method of handling employment claims as they are often faster and less expensive than defending a lawsuit through the courts.
While the new law is limited to claims brought under the California Labor Code and the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), these bodies of law encompass the vast majority of claims brought by employees in California
It is important to note that arbitration agreements remain enforceable under federal law. Other states’ attempts to enact legislation that conflicts with federal arbitration laws have historically been struck down based on federal preemption. For this reason, some experts believe that the new law could similarly be struck down before it is ever enforced. In the meantime, employers should be mindful that a violation of the law could result in criminal penalties, in addition to reimbursement of the employees’ attorneys’ fees.
Increasing Time Employees to Bring Workplace Complaints
Governor Newsom has also enacted the Stop Harassment and Reporting Extension (SHARE) Act, which extends the deadline to file a claim based on workplace harassment, discrimination, or civil rights violations under FEHA from one year to three years.
Expanding Lactation Accommodation Requirement
With limited exception, a new California law will expand the current lactation accommodation requirement. The law already requires employers to provide reasonable break time to lactating employees, as well as a place to express breast milk other than a restroom. Under the new law, the location will need to be safe, clean, and free of hazardous materials. It will also need to be equipped with a place to sit, have access to electricity, and contain a surface for personal items, along with a sink with running water, and a refrigerator to store milk.
Moreover, the break is no longer limited to a “reasonable amount of time,” and will instead permit employees to take a break every time they need to express milk. Employers must now also develop and implement a policy regarding lactation accommodation. Companies with fewer than 50 employees may be exempt from the new law if they can establish that compliance would present an undue hardship. Employers found to be in violation of the law could face discrimination claims and expose themselves to civil penalties.
This article is made available for educational purposes and to provide general information on current legal topics, not to provide specific legal advice. The publication of this article does not create any attorney-client relationship and should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney.