Whoa! It is almost the end of February! Have you completed these 2015 action items?

Here’s a list of action items to make sure your 2015 is off to a fantastic, compliant start!

Paid Sick Leave

For most California employers, there has been a lot of focus, and some tough choices, in preparing for the July 1, 2015 “start date” for California’s Paid Sick Leave law. (AB 1522, the “Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014”)

The legislation is confusing and difficult to implement and this short blog entry is just meant to provide a brief overview. Basically, every employee is eligible for paid sick leave that starts accruing the first day of employment. This means every full time, every part time, every temporary employee is entitled to the benefit.

The paid sick leave must accrue at the rate of no less than 1 hour for every 30 hours worked. For exempt employees, you can assume a 40-hour workweek to track this. But for non-exempt employees, the law reads that the accrual is for every hour worked.

The employer can delay use of the time until 90 days have elapsed. And there is also the rule that the employee is eligible only if they work 30 days in California. But this “30 day rule” does not trump the “accrue from the first day of employment” so you need to be mindful of how these rules work together.

If your company already has a sick leave policy, or “PTO” or something similar with a more creative name, it might comply with the rules, but you must carefully review the accrual rates, annual caps, etc., to make sure. And be mindful of any “attendance policy” that may punish an employee for taking paid sick leave – you don’t want to walk yourself into a violation of the rule due to in artful language.

Some collectively bargained situations are “exempt” from the rule if the agreement provides for specific benefits to all covered employees, such as paid time off, arbitration of certain disputes and a higher minimum wage. There are some other exceptions – for the construction industry and in-home supportive services, for example – that must be reviewed carefully before applying.

If you have any employees in San Francisco or Oakland, you must comply with the paid sick leave rules specific to those cities. For example, the annual cap for both cities is likely higher for your company than the 48 hours in the state law. And in Oakland, there is no option to grant three days with no accrual.

To do:
•   Notify employees of their rights to paid sick leave under state and local law (once you’ve decided how you’re going to implement the new rules)
•   Post notices in common areas of employees’ rights to paid sick leave
•   Begin tracking accrual for all employees July 1, 2015 (or earlier if in SF or Oakland)
•   Confirm that every employee will receive written notice of his or her current accrual/use every pay period. The pay stub is likely the simplest writing to convey this information.

Employer Policies

In addition to the paid sick leave changes, you should:

•  Confirm that any computer use policy explicitly states that it is not intended to restrict your employees’ rights to discuss the terms and conditions of his or her employment, as provided by law.

•  Update any language in your policies that describes protected time off for volunteer “emergency duty.” California law previously prohibited employers from terminating or discriminating against employees for taking time off due to their emergency duty as a volunteer firefighter, reserve peace officer or emergency rescue personnel. AB 2536 amended the definition of “emergency rescue personnel” to include an officer, employee, or member of a disaster medical response entity sponsored or requested by the state. This definition includes an officer, employee, or member of a political subdivision of the state, or of a sheriff’s department, police department, or a private fire department.

•   If you use unpaid interns, volunteers or apprenticeship trainees (and if you do, you should definitely talk to your employment counsel), be sure that they know that FEHA’s – and your company’s — harassment and discrimination protections extend to them.

•   If your employees use cell phones for work-related matters, including email, you should review all aspects of this use. For one, the company is likely obligated to reimburse at least a portion of your employees’ cell phone bills under Labor Code §2802. And there are a host of other issues you should regularly review: such as, are non-exempt employees using cell phones (or other remote access) after hours? Are employees able to nick confidential information with a simple email? What security is in place to prevent unwanted access to your system?

Having the above items under control is a great start. Since this is California, we’ll definitely have more to talk about soon. And my New Year’s resolution was to update my blog more. . . so. . . better late than never. Here we go!

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