I'm Just a Bill: 2020 laws intended to regulate employers

Several California Senate and Assembly bills traveled through the State Legislature and became law Jan. 1. The Town Crier is highlighting new legislation and its ramifications, categorized by topic. Part 1, which ran last week, focused on housing. Part 2 centers on workplace standards.

California legislators passed three bills effective Jan. 1 aimed at protecting workers.

AB 5

Assembly Bill 5, authored by San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat, rewrites the idea of what an employee is for the sake of workers’ benefits. AB 5 codifies the decision made in a landmark California Supreme Court case, Dynamex Operations West Inc. v. the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, that “a person providing labor or services for remuneration shall be considered an employee rather than an independent contractor unless the hiring entity demonstrates that the person is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, the person performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business, and the person is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business.”

AB 5 classifies hundreds of thousands of contractors – for example, rideshare drivers, cosmetologists and even freelance journalists – into groups subject to minimum-wage laws, sick leave and unemployment and workers’ compensation benefits. Certain exceptions are made for professions; newspaper delivery drivers are granted an extra year to comply.

Worries over the downfall of California’s gig economy drove support for the bill, whereas opposition arose from Uber, Lyft and representation for independent writers.

Gonzalez stood by her bill, stating repeatedly that it helped drivers. Within weeks of the bill’s passage, many newsrooms faced a tough decision: eliminate freelance arrangements or cut back the number of articles, and therefore revenue, offered to freelancers.

Both Assemblyman Marc Berman and State Sen. Jerry Hill, who represent Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View, voted in favor of the bill.

SB 188

Senate Bill 188, introduced by State Sen. Holly J. Mitchell, a Democrat from Los Angeles, extends the state’s definition of race to encompass traits historically linked to race – specifically, hair texture and styles. Although California law prohibits discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, SB 188 aims to protect women and men from harassment related to a genetic attribute.

Also known as the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act, SB 188 was drafted in an effort to reinvent the antiquated definition of professionalism that has negatively affected African-Americans in the United States. An amendment to the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, SB 188 directly connects hair texture with individuals who should not have to “drastically and permanently” alter their appearance to “fall into Eurocentric norms,” according to the bill.

“The history of our nation is riddled with laws and societal norms that equated ‘blackness,’ and the associated physical traits, for example, dark skin, kinky and curly hair to a badge of inferiority, sometimes subject to separate and unequal treatment,” SB 188 states. “Workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks, have a disparate impact on Black individuals as these policies are more likely to deter black applicants and burden or punish black employees than any other group.”

Both Berman and Hill voted to approve the law.

SB 142

Senate Bill 142, introduced by State Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, requires employers to set aside space for mothers to breastfeed or pump. Current law ensures that all employees either take or are paid for rest periods throughout the day, and that mothers get “reasonable” breaks to express milk. However, SB 142 takes an extra step to give female employees rightful privacy and tools they need, such as access to a sink and refrigerator near their workspace.

The space designated for mothers cannot be a bathroom and must be in proximity to employees, shielded from view and free from intrusion. If the room serves multiple uses, a mother should be granted the highest priority when she seeks use.

SB 142 deems insufficient breaks or space for lactation and firing or repercussions related to the necessity as grounds to file a complaint with the state’s labor commissioner.

Berman and Hill both supported SB 142.

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