Assembly Approves DIR Legislation, Ergonomics Repeal


The Legislature faced a constitutional deadline to move bills out of their house of origin by January 31. Two DIR-sponsored bills held over from last year quickly cleared the Assembly and moved to the Senate.

AB 398 (Aguiar) would repeal requirements that California employers pay daily overtime after eight hours in a day. Currently, Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) wage orders require daily overtime after eight hours in a day in almost all industries except agriculture. AB 398 would conform California's overtime requirements to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and the laws of 46 other states by requiring overtime after 40 hours of work in one week.

DIR sponsored this legislation, which passed 41-34, so that employees and employers can use flexible schedules.

AB 1961 (House) cleared the Assembly on a 41-36 vote. This DIR-sponsored legislation eliminates the requirement that an employer post the full text of the IWC order that is applicable to the employer's business.

Hanging in a calendar-style format of usually eight large pages, the orders define regulations governing wages, hours and working conditions, and give the detailed legal histories that include arguments presented during IWC hearings to support and oppose these regulations.

AB 1961 would allow employers to post, as an alternative to the full poster, a one-page, easy-to-read summary produced by DIR. The summary would also tell how to obtain a copy of the full text of an IWC order. DIR recognizes that it makes little sense to cover employers' walls with a poster of long text that obscures the relevant information, and which employees and employers rarely make an effort to read or understand.

The Assembly also approved several other labor law bills. Though not sponsored by DIR, they are noteworthy because of significant changes they would make in labor law.

AB 50 (Pringle) repeals Labor Code Section 6357, which requires that the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board adopt an ergonomics standard regarding repetitive strain injuries. The board currently is in the rulemaking process on a second proposed standard, having unanimously rejected the first standard it considered. AB 50 passed on a 41-38 vote.

AB 1 (Aguiar) denies workers' compensation benefits to state and local inmates injured during the course of assigned work in the penal institution. Such benefits would be limited to rehabilitation services. The Assembly Public Safety Committee reported that the Department of Corrections spent $1.7 million in one recent year providing workers' compensation benefits to inmates. The bill passed, 44-31.

Cal/OSHA would be able to impose significantly lower penalties for field sanitation violations under AB 1847 (House). Cal/OSHA's field sanitation standard requires growers to provide safe and healthful field conditions for agricultural workers, with fines set at a minimum of $750. AB 1847, which was approved on a 42-32 vote, would allow Cal/OSHA to require an employer to take remedial action within 24 hours or impose a penalty of not less than $50 for the violation.

AB 1365 (Knowles) changes the burden of proof required for a workers' compensation claim to be compensable. It would require that work must be the predominant, or over 50 percent, cause of an injury or illness, compared to all other causes combined. Under the 1993 workers' compensation reforms, such a standard applies to psychiatric injury, stress claims. Sponsored by Californians for Compensation Reform, this bill was approved 42-36.

AB 1105 (Aguiar), another bill sponsored by Californians for Compensation Reform, also passed, 41-31. This bill would require predominant cause proof, in cumulative trauma cases, that actual employment activities caused the injury or illness claimed.

AB 1288 (Kaloogian) prohibits state and local public officials from collecting workers' compensation and state disability insurance benefits for psychiatric or physical injuries related to stress.

Assembly member Kaloogian introduced the legislation last year in response to the case of former Board of Equalization member William Bennett. Following his guilty plea to a misdemeanor count of abusing state expenses, and a resulting effort by other board members to remove him from office because of his criminal conduct, Bennett suffered a heart attack and filed a workers' compensation stress claim. He was awarded benefits by a workers' compensation referee, a decision the Board of Equalization did not appeal.

AB 1288 received approval, 45-23, and advanced to the Senate. DIR has officially supported this legislation.