California Labor & Employment Law
CALIFORNIA LABOR & EMPLOYMENT LAW
The state with the largest number of employees in the nation is also home to employee-friendly courts, aggressive administrative agencies, and a vast and often unique body of employment laws and regulations with significant differences from federal law. More than 30 of Nixon Peabody’s Labor and Employment attorneys work in California and regularly defend clients in California labor and employment law matters. We help our clients issue-spot and develop creative compliance solutions for California’s unique workplace rules including, but not limited to, the following:
- Wage and hour law—California differences from federal law include “daily” overtime, different tests for exempt status, evolving law on mandatory meal and rest periods with special penalties, unique and often arcane provisions governing payment of wages and vacation time, prevailing wage rules, and more lenient rules for class action lawsuits.
- Antidiscrimination and harassment laws—California’s antidiscrimination laws are broader than federal law. They include protections for sexual orientation and marital status, and a more liberal “continuing violation” theory.
- RIFs—Under California law, using salary as the basis for selecting employees for layoff may not be a defense to age discrimination where doing so disparately impacts older employees; and California has a state “Baby WARN” Act that covers more employers than the federal version and is different in several significant respects.
- Leave laws—California’s numerous leave laws have their own procedures, forms, and requirements, and often require more and/or different leave than under federal law. Examples include pregnancy leave and PFL, a statewide paid family leave law with no federal corollary.
- Employee and applicant privacy—California restrictions on background checks, investigative consumer reports, and disclosure of medical information are typically broader than federal restrictions. Employees have broad-ranging access to personnel records. Constitutional privacy protection in California extends to employees of private employers.
- Damage remedies for undocumented workers—California law allows undocumented workers to collect back pay for violations of state labor and employment laws.
- Expanded whistleblower protection—California law contains multiple whistleblower provisions, covering a greater number of employers than the federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act and adding more penalty provisions.
- Cal/OSHA—Cal/OSHA is, by far, the most rigorous and extensive occupational safety and health program in the nation. Cal/OSHA has increased civil and criminal penalties and has requirements governing subjects for which there are no Fed/OSHA standards. These include specific rules for written injury and illness prevention programs (IIPPs), ergonomics, heat stress, and mold abatement.
- Domestic partner benefits—Registered domestic partners have the same rights and obligations as spouses under California law.
- Unique municipal ordinances—A number of local governments have taken California’s expansive labor and employment laws and expanded them still further. Thus, in some cities and counties, employers are confronted with local mandatory health care laws, “living” wage requirements, additional domestic partner benefit requirements, local prevailing wage laws, additional antidiscrimination provisions, and more.
- Anticompetition provisions—California has broad restrictions on noncompete, nonsolicitation, and other restrictive covenants.
- Wrongful discharge law—California has long led the nation in the development of wrongful discharge law.
- Obscure labor code provisions—California’s extensive labor code and other employment laws contain numerous traps for the unwary employer, including both arcane and cutting-edge provisions. These include but are not limited to rules on employee inventions, lactation privileges, a “pants rule,” rules governing access to employee records, restrictions on out-of-state recruiting, alcohol and drug rehabilitation requirements, employee jury duty, and employee literacy assistance.
- Incentives for employee lawsuits—California has enacted the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) providing additional incentives, such as attorneys’ fees and penalties, for plaintiffs to file lawsuits on behalf of themselves and “other current or former employees.”