Trick or Treat! New Laws for California Employers (some of them)

Coming soon . . . Well . . .not really soon – but on January 1, 2013!  While it is not even Halloween, California employers need to be aware of some new rules that will take effect in a few short months.

There are more, of course, but below I briefly discuss the ones creating the most noise. By “noise” I mean the ones talked  about on KCBS, or NPR, on the internet and in the break room. These are the ones that your employees know about and they expect demand that you comply:

Social Media Passwords.  If you have completely ignored the advice of almost every lawyer I know  and have required your employees and applicants to turn over their social media passwords, now you really need to stop.  Starting January 1, 2013, an employer can’t require or request an employee or applicant for his or her username or password to access personal social media.  There are exceptions.  One is if the employer thinks the disclosure is relevant to an investigation of employee misconduct or illegal acts by an employee.  Another is if the employer is using the information to access an electronic device the employer issued.  The exceptions should not be utilized without consulting with your lawyer.

Religious Accommodation.  The vague rules governing religious accommodation in employment were modified.  California employees are protected from discrimination based on “religion,” “religious observance,” and “religious belief” and a new law clarifies that these protections include religious dress and grooming practices.  Employees are protected in their wearing of religious clothing, head or face coverings, jewelry, and artifacts.  The new law also specifically forbids segregating an employee from the public (or other employees) as a reasonable accommodation to his or her religious dress or grooming.

For religious matters, employers have historically had the ability to assert that some accommodations could not be made as they were an undue burden.  That somewhat vague standard has been refined so that it is similar to the “undue burden” standard that guides us in disability accommodation:  to claim that an accommodation would be an undue burden, an employer must demonstrate significant difficulty or expense.

Personnel Files.  Employers must review their personnel file maintenance and inspection procedures.  A new bill eliminates conflicting interpretations of the rules regarding current and former employees’ rights to inspect and copy their files.  The bill also places additional administrative requirements on employers.

I’ll talk about the other new laws in later posts so you can be ready for the New Year.  First, though, I’m going to pick out my Halloween costume.

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