California’s New Laws in 2021- Focus on Safety, COVID-19 Response and Employment Equality

By Barry A. Bradley, Esq. and
Thomas P. Gmelich, Esq.

There was nothing funny, unexpected, or too wacky about this year’s crop of new laws passed in California. Largely due to the shortened legislative session (thanks to COVID-19), Governor Gavin Newsom signed only 372 new laws. This was fewer than any year since 1967.

The clear focus was on saving lives, or making our workplaces safer. Also due to the social climate, civil rights and equality also play a central theme in this year’s new bills. Some noteworthy laws (and a few that are just plain interesting) are highlighted below.


Points (Not The Good Kind) For Driving Distracted

This law could impact your car insurance premiums and even your ability to drive. Using a cell phone in a handheld manner while driving is currently punishable by a fine. Beginning July 1, 2021, violating the hands-free law for a second time within 36 months of a prior conviction for the same offense will result in a point being added to a driver’s record. AB 47 applies to the violations of talking or texting while driving (except for hands-free use) and to any use of these devices while driving by a person under 18 years of age.


Pet Stores Can No Longer Sell Pets – But Can Provide Free Space For Shelters and Rescues

In an effort to reduce the existence of puppy mills and similar animal factories, AB 2152 makes it illegal for a pet store to adopt out or sell a dog, cat or rabbit. It does, however, allow a pet store to provide free space for the display of such non-human animals for adoption to a public animal control agency or shelter, or an animal rescue group.

With violations that can result in a civil penalty up to $5,000 per pet for repeat offenders, this new law has some serious teeth to it.


Children Locked In a Car Now Have Equal Right To Be Saved As A Pet

Back in 2017, California passed a law giving immunity to a person who breaks a window to save a pet (so long as they call 911 first).

Finally, AB 2717 exempts a person from civil or criminal liability for trespassing or damaging a vehicle when rescuing a child who is 6 years old or younger and who is in immediate danger from heat, cold, lack of ventilation, or other dangerous circumstances. The law t00k effect January 1, 2021. Makes you wonder what took us so long?


Police Use of Force Policies, and Banning of Choke Holds and Carotid Restraints

As an immediate outcry to the George Floyd video that sparked demonstrations throughout our nation, California put into effect some laws that impact our peace officers and our communities. AB 1196 places an immediate ban on the use of carotid restraints or chokeholds.

Additionally, SB 230 requires each law enforcement agency to maintain a policy that provides guidelines on the use of force, utilizing de-escalation techniques and other alternatives to force whenever possible, specific guidelines for the application of deadly force, and factors for evaluating and reviewing all use of force incidents. It will also require each agency to make its use of force policy available to the public.


COVID-19 Potential Exposure Notifications To Employees

Every California employer is now required to promptly notify employees within one day of potential coronavirus exposure, as well as local public health officials, after someone at the same worksite tests positive for COVID-19, receives a medical diagnosis, and/or receives an isolation order. The employer must also notify any subcontractor’s employee who was also at the same worksite.

This bill, AB 685, also empowers Cal/OSHA with the authority to shut down a worksite if the state agency deems it an imminent hazard. (“Imminent hazard” is not defined and is largely left up to the discretion of the official.)

This bill also requires employers to provide impacted employees with information on benefits such as workers’ compensation and sick leave, about protection against retaliation, and on the company’s virus safety measures.


Workers Compensation is also impacted. Based upon emergency legislation that went into effect in September 2020, an employee who contracts COVID-19 is presumed to have been infected during employment. This provides workers compensation benefits to impacted workers. (The presumption can be rebutted with evidence.) Note that an employer’s time to oppose a claim for coronavirus coverage has been shortened to between 30-45 days, compared to 90 days in other cases. Employers can expect more cases to be filed, and more to be accepted due to the presumption.

 


PPE For Our Frontline Heroes (Workers)

Beginning in April, hospitals must maintain a three-month stockpile of personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves for their workers. A violations of AB 2537 can result in a fine of up to $25,000.

We are all grateful for the incredible healthcare workers in our hospitals who have risked their lives in order to save others. This is true for the doctors, nurses, therapists, and everyone else who place themselves in harm’s way, including maintenance and janitorial workers.


Family and Medical Leave Expansion for Small Businesses

Expanding the California Family Rights Act, SB 1383 now requires small employers with as few as five employees to provide up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to their employees for qualifying life events such as serious health problems, birth of a child, and military active duty. However, only employees who have worked for the company for more than 12 months, and for more than 1,250 hours during the previous 12-month period are eligible. Additionally, if both parents of a child work for the same company, each of the parents will receive 12 workweeks leave.

The law also now allows workers to take their leave to care for seriously ill siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, adult children and parents-in-law. Previously, this was limited to care for employees’ minor children, parents and spouses.

Another Year, Another Dollar Minimum Wage

Another pay hike is on the way for minimum wage workers. This is the continuing effect of SB 3 (2016). The minimum wage in California just went up by one dollar to $13 an hour for workers at companies with less than 26 employees and to $14 an hour for workers at larger companies. (Remember that some local jurisdictions impose a higher minimum wage.)


Kin Care – The Employees’ Right to Designate Use of Sick Days

With the passage of AB 2017, employees now have the power in their sole discretion whether to designate part or all of their employer-provided sick days for the employees’ own use or, instead, to care for a sick family member. Previously, only 50% of sick days could be so designated for the care of others.

 


Gender and Race Equality Reporting Now Required

In its continuing effort to stem the pay inequality between male and female employees, as well as racial pay disparities, the Legislature passed SB 973. This bill requires, by March 31, 2021, all private employers with 100 or more employees and that are required to file an annual Employer Information Report under federal law, to submit a pay data report to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) that contains specified wage information tied to race, ethnicity and sex, on or before March 31, 2021, and on or before March 31 each year thereafter.

Any individually identifiable information will be kept from disclosure (at least before the DFEH institutes certain investigations or proceedings.) The bill also requires the Employment Development Department to provide DFEH, upon its request, the names and addresses of all businesses with 100 or more employees.


Bradley & Gmelich Security Guard LawUnionized Security Guards Can Now Continue Protecting While On A Break

Current law prohibits an employer from requiring an employee to work during a mandated meal or rest break period. AB 1512 authorizes unionized security officers who are registered pursuant to the Private Security Services Act and whose employer is a licensed security guard company (Private Patrol Operator), to be required to remain on the premises they are guarding during rest periods and to remain on call, and carry and monitor a communication device, during rest periods.

This common-sense law will allow security guards to remain vigilant and alert in the case of an emergency situation that may require their attention during their 10-minute rest break, without the guard company violating any laws. Unfortunately, the new law only applies to unionized contracts with a collective bargaining agreement. (But it is a good start to increasing public safety!)


Workers’ Compensation COVID-19 Presumption

SB 1159 creates a rebuttable presumption that an employee contracted COVID-19 at work if they have tested positive or are diagnosed with COVID-19 within 14 days after a day that the employee worked at their place of employment. The bill provides that the “place of employment” does not include an employee’s residence if they are working at home. SB 1159 took effect in September 2020 and expires on January 1, 2023

 


We are grateful to our incredible attorneys, secretaries, and our entire support staff for being so resilient during this past year. We wish all of our clients, friends and community a healthy and hopefully less-crazy year in 2021.

— Barry & Tom


Barry A Bradleygmelich_t

Barry A. Bradley, Esq. and Thomas P. Gmelich, Esq. are the founding partners of Bradley & Gmelich LLP. For the past 21 years, Tom and Barry have enjoyed litigating cases and watching the firm grow to over 25 attorneys and a full support team. Both Barry and Tom have AV-Preeminent ratings from Martindale-Hubbell, the highest peer review rating possible, and have been named Southern California Super Lawyers for the past 16 and 11 years, respectively. The firm represents businesses and employers in general civil litigation, employment law and business law matters.
bbradley@bglawyers.com and tgmelich@bglawyers.com.