If the headline to this article showed up on the Jeopardy board, the answer would be “What is going up this year in California, Alex.” Employers better be ready for a triple shot of harmful new laws, courtesy of the legislature and Governor Brown.
First up, a bill to increase the minimum wage to $8.50 – which may not appear too drastic at first blush - but the bill would also automatically increase the minimum wage every year based on the consumer price index, further damaging the competitiveness of California businesses.
Next, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma has re- introduced her pet bill mandating paid sick days. Her bill has twice failed to secure passage, but the prospects for passage are much higher this time around. If it is signed into law, all employees would accrue sick leave at the rate of one hour per thirty hours worked. Employers with more than 10 employees would be required to allow employees to take up to nine sick days per year due to their own illness or the illness of a family member. Employers with less than 10 employees will only be required to allow up to five sick days per year. The bill does not specify whether adequate proof of illness is required for use of sick days, but sets out penalties on employers if any action is taken against employees for using sick days. Passage of this bill would therefore, for all practical purposes, give employees the right to use their paid days off for any purpose, not just illness.
Finally, a bill to prevent “discrimination” against medical marijuana users has been re-introduced. The bill, which previously was passed by the legislature but vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger, would prevent employers from refusing to hire applicants who test positive for marijuana, or from disciplining employees suspected of using marijuana unless the employer can prove that the employee’s use “impaired” their job performance. This nebulous standard would make it next to impossible to terminate employees using marijuana, even during the work day, unless there is adequate proof the employee was smoking the drug on company premises. The proposed legislation does contain an exception for “safety sensitive” positions, however, in order to avoid a conflict with Federal law authorizing random drug testing for such positions.
It is likely that all three of these bills will be amended prior to passage, but there’s little doubt that all three will eventually make it through the legislature to Governor Brown’s desk. It would be a shock if the Governor used his veto pen on any of them. In all likelihood, this is just the beginning of a flood of legislation that will make it even more difficult to operate a business in California. Recently, Carl's Jr. announced it may move its headquarters out of California, precisely because of the increasing regulatory burden here. The only businesses that will take any of this as good news are plaintiff’s lawyers and moving and relocation specialists.