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New labor laws will affect California businesses big and small
A number of new California laws set to hit the books Jan. 1 will impact business owners both large and small, from increased minimum wage to COVID-related requirements.

First, most employees must be paid the minimum wage of $14 an hour come Jan. 1 under state law signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015. The legislation launched a wage progression each year starting in 2017, adding 50 cents annually to the former $10-per-hour standard. From the beginning of 2019, the wage has gone up by a dollar and currently stands at $13.

More than 20 new labor and employment bills were signed into state law by Gov. Gavin Newsom this year, many of which will go into effect with the new year. Some were written by California legislators in response to the coronavirus pandemic, while others are meant to provide employees with more time and resources.

Assembly Bill 685 establishes strict COVID-19 reporting and recording requirements when an employer receives notice of a potential exposure within the workplace. The law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, will require an employer to provide varying notices to different groups of employees within 24 hours after receiving notice of a potential COVID-29 exposure, among other things. In addition, an employer must also notify their local public health department within 48 hours if an outbreak occurs at the worksite.

Newsom signed AB 685 in September, along with Senate Bill 1159. SB 1159 went into effect immediately and expanded access to workers’ compensation for first responders, healthcare workers and other employees who contract COVID-19 within 14 days of a notified workplace outbreak.

“Protecting workers is critical to slowing the spread of the virus,” Newsom said in a statement. “These two laws will help California workers stay safe at work and get the support they need if they are exposed to COVID-19.”

Beginning Jan. 1, the California Family Rights Act will be significantly expanded under Senate Bill 1383. The bill expands employer coverage to include all employers with five or more employees; prior to SB 1383, the requirement was 50 or more employees. According to the California Chamber of Commerce, small businesses will need to quickly get up to speed with the new laws before Jan. 1 due to this “major development.”

Larger employers will be affected by SB 1383 as well, as the bill also expands the definition of “family members” to siblings and grandparents, going beyond what is covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Businesses who have to administer CFRA and FMLA separately in some cases can expect changes.

Despite labor law and business advocates stating these changes to family leave will have negative impacts on businesses struggling during COVID, the author of SB 1383, Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson, believes the bill will help workers care for family members during the pandemic while protecting their jobs.

“Access to family leave is especially critical amid COVID-19 when workers need to take time off to care for themselves or their loved ones. Yet without job protection, many workers fear losing their job for taking the paid family leave benefits they pay for,” Jackson said in a statement. “Job-protected family leave promotes public health, boosts economic recovery and supports working families.”

Another new law aims to create more diversity on corporate boards, with Assembly Bill 979 requiring publicly-held corporations with principal executive offices in California to have a minimum of one director from an underrepresented community by the end of 2021.