By Dennis Albiani, FBA Legislative Advocate
California leaders continue to pile requirements on employers. A minimum wage increase, more paid family leave, and more scrutiny in hiring practices are just a few issues that were enacted into law as of Jan. 1.
The statewide minimum wage went up by 50 cents per hour to $10.50 per hour for employers with 25 or fewer workers and to $11 per hour for employers with 26 or more employees. That increase was mandated under a 2016 law that is gradually increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Be aware, some cities have higher minimum wages.
California employers can no longer ask most job applicants about their criminal records until a conditional offer has been made, and can’t ask any job seekers about their salary history unless the applicant volunteers this information, according to two new workplace laws that will have broad impact when hiring new employees.
AB 168 prohibits all public- and private-sector California employers from asking about a job applicant’s current or prior salary in job applications, interviews, and through outside recruiters. They also cannot consider salary history in determining whether to hire someone, unless the applicant voluntarily discloses the information. It also requires employers to give an applicant, upon request, the pay scale for the position. The main goal is to stop the perpetuation of gender pay gaps from one job to the next.
Experts say the most significant new law impacting hiring is AB 1008, the California Fair Chance Act. It prohibits employers with five or more employees from seeking information about a prospective worker’s criminal history in job applications or interviews or running a criminal background check until a “conditional offer of employment” has been made. The goal is to reduce recidivism by preventing employers from rejecting ex-offenders out of hand. The law exempts certain positions, such as those where a criminal background check is required by law.
Another new law, SB 63, requires California employers with 20 or more employees to give up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to eligible workers to bond with a new child. They also must maintain the employee’s health coverage during this baby-bonding leave. Employers with 50 or more employees already have this requirement. Mothers and fathers, including foster and adoptive parents, can take it. Some employees may get partial pay for up to six weeks during this leave through the state’s Paid Family Leave program. Baby bonding must be taken within 12 months of the child’s birth, adoption, or foster placement.
Please discuss new laws and compliance with legal counsel and your human resource professional. With the Private Attorney Generals Act (PAGA) liability, employer exposure is significant.
Food tax bills set for hearing January 8th
Two pieces of legislation authored by Assembly Member Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, would dramatically reverse a policy that voters established in 1992. AB 274 and ACA 2 attempt to reinstate state and local sales taxes on candy and processed snacks. They are scheduled to be heard in the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee next Monday. It is important to note that the current chair of the committee who had expressed grave concerns about the two bills recently resigned.
In 1991, during extreme fiscal challenges for the state, legislators enacted a “snack tax” but it immediately became apparent that arbitrary taxes on food products was difficult to enforce, define, and implement. Consumer frustration led to the passage of Proposition 163 in 1992. Prop. 163 prohibited via the California Constitution state and local sales taxes on any food and water products; the essentials of life. One of the main arguments to voters was that food taxes are regressive and fall most heavily on those who are least able to afford them, whether those taxes are imposed on “candy,” “processed snacks,” or other foods. AB 274 and ACA 2 reopens these issues to collect a tax that would be allocated to public health actions and diabetes.
The legislation would impose new taxes on “candy or confectionary” items and “processed snacks.” There are concerns about how the bills’ definitions would be implemented. To cite just a few examples, food items labeled as candy would be taxed unless they are made from maple sugar and labeled as candy, in which case they would not be taxed. Granola would be taxable in some cases, yet granola cereal bars are specifically exempted from taxation. A candy bar would be taxed but a frozen version of the same product would be exempt. Making sense of contradictions like these will present government tax agencies with an enormous amount of work as they attempt to provide guidance for retailers.
The Association is working hard on the issue and trying to ensure the definitions are precise and to oppose “taxes” on key California foods and commodities.