How SB 218 and AB 170 Could Impact Employers

As the 2019 California Legislative Session comes to a close in mid-September, employers around the state are closely monitoring two bills that may impact their employment processes. Senate Bill 218 (SB 218) and Assembly Bill 170 (AB 170) are two bills that focus on employee discrimination and how that discrimination must be handled by employers. Both bills, in their current forms, appear to prioritize the needs of the employee. However, these pieces of legislation may make it more challenging and more costly for employers to do business in the state.

Noting the complexity of the topic, both employers and employees are curious about the future of these bills. As the legislative session is set to be finished in just a few weeks, it is assumed by many that these bills will be approved and ultimately be sent to the governor to become law. The question is whether there will be significant changes made to the bills within the final weeks.

SB 218 And Employment Discrimination At The State Level

SB 218 was first introduced in February 2019 by Senator Steven Bradford, who is a democrat representing the 35th district in the state. Most recently, it was amended in the Assembly in July 2019. The bill aims to make changes to the current employment discrimination law. Two of the major changes proposed in the bill include:

  • It allows local jurisdictions to manage employment discrimination claims that fall under the Fair Employment Housing Act (FEHA). Currently, local governmental jurisdictions must defer those claims to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
  • It would provide local jurisdictions with the power to create their own anti-discrimination policies, over and above what is covered under the FEHA state law. The policies created by local jurisdictions could include consequences for violating the anti-discrimination policies as well as remedies for preventing future violations.

The intent of the law appears to be to prevent future employment discrimination issues and to provide local governmental bodies with more freedom to address discrimination in the workforce. However, this bill, if passed in its current form, could make it much more complicated for employers to create and enforce effective policies. An employer may be left dealing with inconsistent interpretations of the state law, which could greatly impact their ability to continue to do business in a particular municipality.

In addition, the law will require employers to adhere to additional rules and regulations regarding their employment policies. Currently, employers must navigate a myriad of state and federal anti-discrimination laws. If the bill passes, then they also will have to stay abreast of local anti-discrimination laws and be forced to adapt their policies to adhere to additional requirements.

Employers must make compliance a priority, which adds significantly to the cost of running a business. If SB 218 becomes law, compliance will become more challenging for employers, who will have to work closely with their local government as well as state and federal governmental representatives in order to verify that they are within the boundaries of a complex set of laws that may vary from one region to another. It will become more important than ever to hire a qualified attorney who knows how to strike the balance between compliance and viability.

AB 170 And Joint Liability For Employee Harassment

AB 170 was first introduced in January 2019 by Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez, who is a democrat representing the 80th Assembly District. Most recently, the bill was amended in the Senate in August 2019. The bill aims to extend joint liability from the client employer to the labor contractor to include harassment claims.

Currently, employers in California must accept joint liability for unpaid wages and failure to comply with worker’s compensation laws. The bill extends liability to include harassment claims, including sexual harassment claims made by employees. AB 170, if passed in its current form, would force employers to accept liability in the event of a harassment situation, regardless of whether or not the employer had knowledge of the harassment or if the employer had an opportunity to control the behavior.

For employers, this law eliminates any gray area when it comes to harassment in the work place. Rather than looking at the situation and evaluating the specific circumstances, AB 170 would automatically force the employer to assume responsibility. This would be the case even if the employee did not report the harassment, or if the employer was not given an opportunity to address the circumstances.

This bill is in line with other laws in California in forcing companies to intentionally stagnate growth in the state while pursuing opportunities in other states. Due to the continued irresponsible anti-business laws now in place in California, businesses and their owners continue to leave the state.

Employees are responsible for understanding local, state and federal laws, and they are required to implement policies and procedures that adhere to these laws. For many, this can feel like an impossible task, and can make it both confusing and costly to set up processes that allow them to hire the best possible candidates for their available positions.

California employers should work closely with an experienced lawyer who stays informed of the latest legislative updates in the state of California and across the country. It’s imperative to partner with a lawyer who understands the unique perspective of employers, and who works to create a comprehensive employment strategy that allows them to adhere to all of the most recent and updated laws without compromising the strength of their organization.

For more information on employment law in California and how recent legislative may impact your business, contact us today. If you decide to move your business or focus expansion away from California, Lobb & Plewe have a business migration practice group to assist your efforts.

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