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Employment law changes in 2008 and beyond

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California employers can breathe a sigh of relief. After a decade of new laws, some that dramatically changed the landscape of employment law, 2008 brings few changes.

However, employers must continue to be diligent in their understanding and enforcement of employment regulations. Below is a recap of new laws for the New Year and some reminders and recommendations for employers.

Minimum wage increase

Effective Jan. 1, California's minimum wage will increase to $8 per hour. This change will affect a significant number of employees. In 2005 nearly 2 million California workers earned minimum wage or less per hour, with minimum wage workers making up 6.9 percent of the more than 14.6 million wage and salary workers.

The federal minimum wage increases on July 24 from $5.85 per hour to $6.55 per hour.

SB 929 software employees wage decrease

Software companies in California will be happy to note that effective Jan. 1, the hourly earning threshold for exemption from overtime payment to highly skilled employees in the computer software field will be lowered from $49.77 per hour to not less than $36 per hour. The reduction is a result of the dot-com bust and the overall economic recession in the IT field.

AB 392 support for military spouses

This law, which was passed as urgency legislation and is currently in effect, requires public and private employers that employ 25 or more employees to allow spouses of military personnel to take up to 10 days of unpaid leave during their spouse's leave from deployment. The law also states that employers are prohibited from retaliating against the employee for requesting or taking time off pursuant to this law.

AB 632 health care whistle blowing

This new law prohibits health care facilities from discriminating or retaliating against any patient, employee, medical staff members or health care worker of the facility for engaging in certain protected activities. Such activities include presenting a grievance, complaint or report to an entity or agency responsible for accrediting or evaluating the facility, or initiating, participating or cooperating in an investigation or administrative proceeding related to the quality of care, services or conditions at the facility. An employee who is discriminated against for participating in any of these activities is entitled to reinstatement, reimbursement for lost wages, as well as any and all legal costs associated with pursuing the case.

AB 1302 HIPAA extension

This law extends the provisions of the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Implementation Act (HIPAA), which was set to expire on Jan. 1. The new law extends HIPAA until July 1, 2010, when it is scheduled to become inoperative.

Additional recommendations for employees in 2008 include:

Wireless telephones and vehicles

On July 1, it will be illegal to drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless the phone is equipped with hands-free capabilities. The first fine is $20 and $50 for each subsequent offense. Employers should make certain that all employees that operate motor vehicles as part of their job be aware of this new law. If your company has policies regarding the use of motor vehicles for company purposes, it is advisable to update the policies to prohibit employees from using cell phones while driving (unless equipped with a hands-free device). This law does not apply to an emergency services professional using a wireless telephone while operating an emergency vehicle.

Wage and hour issues

The coming year will undoubtedly see more litigation regarding employees' break periods and lunch periods. Employers should ensure that all employees are taking the appropriate amount of break periods on a daily basis. If an employee does not take the required breaks or lunch periods, they must be compensated appropriately.

Harassment

Every year employment lawyers see a new set of cases going through the court system requiring various kinds of work-related harassment. It is imperative that every member of your management team (and other employees, as needed) be properly trained on all types of harassment. In addition, all California employees with 50 or more employees are required to provide at least two hours of sexual harassment prevention training to all supervising employees and provide ongoing training every two years. It is important to keep proper records of when your employees have been trained and when they will require additional training and then, make sure they receive at least the minimum amount of training required by law, if not more.

Family leave and disability

The interplay between family medical leave and disability leave laws, workers compensation laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) will continue to be a source of headaches for your human resources department. Court cases continue to test the scope and limits of these regulations. We advise that any disability or leave issues facing your company that are not specifically routine be reviewed with qualified legal counsel.


Prater is a partner in the San Diego office of Best Best & Krieger LLP. She is a member of the firm's Labor and Employment practice group and specializes in providing advice to public and private employers on personnel and labor matters, and representing public agencies and private employers in employment law litigation and administrative proceedings.

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