What Employment Laws Do You Need to Know in California? 

As an owner of an expanding small business, one of the best things you can do to see its success through the years is to stay conversant and compliant with employment laws. And if your business is located in California, you should know that Employment laws here are often complex and ever-changing, as lawmakers continuously strive to modernize labor regulations. This is at least according to Mohamed Eldessouky, a decorated employment attorney in Los Angeles and its environs.

As such, understanding all the necessary legal requirements can indeed be a little challenging. But navigating legal issues regarding labor laws can be even more traumatizing, especially if you’re not properly informed!

In this piece, luckily, we shall look at some of the most important employment laws you should know to understand your legal obligations as an employer, keep your business legally protected, and ensure the smooth flow of operations.

1. Wage and Hour Laws 

California has some of the strictest labor laws in the nation, part of which include wage and hour laws. As an employer, it is crucial to understand your obligations as far as wage & hour laws are concerned. Not only does this help ensure compliance for your business, but it can also help keep your employees motivated, productive, and loyal to the company.

As outlined in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), for instance, employees must be paid at least a minimum wage, which is roughly $10.00 – $15.50 per hour as of 2023 depending on company size. Employers are also required to pay overtime for work done beyond eight hours a day or forty hours a week – at a rate of 1.5 times the ordinary hourly rate.

In line with this, employees should also receive rest breaks during shifts that exceed three and a half hours, as well as meal periods consisting of at least thirty minutes if they work six or more consecutive hours.

Employers should also ensure that their employees are paid on regular schedules as set forth by law, typically semi-monthly. They should be paid on a defined payday for all work completed up until that point – without delay or deductions unless otherwise authorized by statute.

2. Anti-Discrimination Protections 

Nothing can be more damaging to a business’s success than when some of its employees face discrimination at the workplace. Oftentimes, it shatters employee morale, wrecks productivity, attracts liability, soils the company’s public image, and makes it difficult to retain or recruit new talent!

Thanks to the law, employers in California are prohibited from discriminating against their employees based on a variety of protected issues. Among others, these include discrimination against race, gender identity or expression, age, disability status, and nationality. Basically, this implies that employers cannot refuse to hire someone because they are part of a specific group or treat them differently due to any of these factors once hired.

Additionally, equal pay laws prohibit differences in wages for people doing the same job regardless of their sex or race, especially in instances where qualifications and experience are similar. Understanding your obligations as an employer under relevant discrimination and equal pay laws can help ensure compliance, and even help resolve related issues at your organization if they ever arise.

3. Leave Requirements for Employees 

Employees in California are entitled to both paid and unpaid leaves from work under certain circumstances. Paid sick leave, for instance, can be provided by employers to employees who need time off due to illness or medical appointments.

Family, maternity, and paternity leaves provide job-protected time away from the workplace to take care of a new child, deal with a serious health issue, or navigate an emergency situation. And considering the different regulations involved, it is important to understand your obligations as an employer, following the applicable laws when offering various forms of leaves to your workers.

4. Worker Protection Laws 

As an employer in California, you also need to comply with a range of worker protection laws that offer additional job security, as well as workplace health and safety standards for your employees. Employers are also required to provide their workers with union rights, protect their personal information when on the job, and create an environment free from any type of harassment or discrimination such as sexual harassment.

Failing to adhere to these regulations can expose you to hefty legal penalties and fines based on the details of state labor laws surrounding each situation.

5. Employee Misclassification Law for Independent Contractors 

Employers in California must understand the importance of properly classifying their workers as either employees or independent contractors to avoid legal issues down the road. The California Supreme Court recently clarified and strengthened state law, with stringent requirements that stipulate when an individual may be classified as an independent contractor instead of an employee.

Consequently, employers now bear a greater burden in demonstrating that individuals are not employees under applicable laws before they can justifiably treat them as independent contractors. Moreover, certain documentary evidence, such as contracts and tax obligations/payment records, may also need to be produced to ensure compliance with this particular section of labor laws.

6. Degree of Liability for Employers 

Also, every employer in California is subject to certain degrees of liability when managing their workplace operations. For instance, any negligent or unlawful decisions made by an employer or their management teams that result in injury or damages to employees can leave them open to legal action from the individuals or families affected.

In certain instances, such employers may incur a multitude of civil or even criminal penalties if found guilty. When negligent decisions result in an employee’s injury or wrongful death, for instance, the employer may suffer anything from enormous financial settlements to fines, and even probation periods depending on the nature and severity of the specific case.

It is thus important for employers to stay informed on what might attract or constitute liability under the current labor laws, so they can take measures against potential risks accordingly.

7. Termination & Severance Policies 

While “at-will” employment terms are pretty common in California, there are instances where you can’t just wake up, fire an employee, and expect to get away with it scot-free. For instance, terminating an employee’s contract based on their sexual orientation or beliefs can be considered wrongful termination.

Especially for larger employers, legally terminating employment sometimes involves a multistep process. You may need to first provide the affected individual/s with a notice, disciplinary warnings, and clear accrued wages while ensuring fair treatment throughout the process.

Specific Employment Laws That Protect Employee’s Rights in California

There are numerous employment laws in California, each curated to protect the rights of workers (and sometimes employers) in various ways. Some of the most common ones include the following:

  • California Labor Code
  • The Fair Employment & Housing Act
  • Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA)
  • Family & Medical Leave Act
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Whistleblower and Retaliation Laws
  • Fair Labor Standards Act
  • National Labor Relations Act
  • Worker Adjustment & Retraining Notification Act

Most (if not all) of these laws might be a bit complex to comprehend for the average business owner without legal expertise and experience. Nonetheless, they become pretty easy to understand with the guidance of a reputable employment attorney.

Summing Up

No matter which type of business you run, understanding and following all employment laws in California is essential for safe and successful operations. By keeping the above key regulations in mind, you can stay ahead of the curve when it comes to protecting yourself and your staff. Make sure to always consult with a qualified legal expert whenever necessary, if confusion or uncertainty arises on any particular labor law matters!

You may be interested in: 5 Labor Laws All Business Owners Should Know