New laws effective January 2003

Employer penalties for not reporting accidents to Cal/OSHA: Any employer who fails to report a fatal injury or the serious injury or illness of an employee to Cal/OSHA within eight hours of its occurrence now faces a minimum penalty of $5,000. Provisions of Assembly Bill (AB) 2837 include the substantial increase in penalties -- up from $500 -- for employers who don't report. A serious injury or illness is defined as amputation of a member of the body, disfigurement, or in-patient hospitalization for more than 24 hours for other than observation. Employers must report the name and location of the injured person, the nature of the injury or illness, a description of the accident including its time and date, the employer's name, address and telephone number and other relevant information to the nearest Cal/OSHA office by phone or fax within eight hours. AB 2837 also provides that an employer, officer, management official, or supervisor who knowingly fails to report a death to Cal/OSHA or knowingly induces another to do so is guilty of a misdemeanor and will face a penalty of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $15,000, or both. If the violator is a corporation or a limited liability company, the fine could be up to $150,000. See the notice on Cal/OSHA’s Web site for details.

Workers’ compensation benefits: AB 749 provides the first increase in workers' compensation benefits for injured workers since July 1, 1996. It also contains a number of measures to reduce costs for employers and to improve the efficiency California’s workers' compensation system. Companion legislation, AB 486, contains primarily technical changes and corrections to the original legislation. Details of benefit increases are contained in a summary on the Division of Workers’ Compensation Web site.

Agricultural mediation: SB 1156 provides a mediation procedure for specific agricultural employers and labor organizations certified as employees’ exclusive bargaining agents. It allows either party to file a declaration that they’ve failed to reach a collective bargaining agreement with the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) following a period of negotiation and requires the ALRB to immediately direct the parties to mandatory mediation and conciliation of the issues.

California WARN: As a result of AB 2957, California law now requires employers with 75 or more employees who layoff, relocate, or terminate 50 or more workers at once to first give 60 days notice to affected employees, similar to the federal WARN Act. This bill further provides for civil penalties against an employer who fails to give the required notice. Employees who bring a civil action to enforce the provisions of this bill are, at the discretion of the court, entitled to recover attorney's fees.

Discussing pay or working conditions: AB 2895 makes it illegal for employers to prohibit an employee from disclosing information about working conditions, or to discharge or in any other way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for having disclosed information about working conditions. This is an extension of existing law, which protects the right of employees to disclose information about wages.

Family sick leave: SB 1471 tightened protection for families under the family sick leave law by making it illegal for employers to maintain absence control policies that count sick leave used to attend the illness of a child, parent, spouse, domestic partner or child of a domestic partner as a basis for discipline, demotion, discharge or suspension.

Access to payroll records: Prior law required that employers allow employees to inspect their payroll records but did not provide a time frame in which the inspection must occur. With the passage of AB 2412 employers are now required to comply with oral or written requests from current or former employees to inspect and/or copy their payroll records within 21 calendar days. Failure to permit an inspection within the time frame entitles the current or former employee, or the Labor Commissioner, to recover a $750.00 penalty from the employer.

Immigrant worker rights: Through SB 1818, the Legislature declared that all protections, rights, and remedies available under state law, except for reinstatement if prohibited by federal law, are available to individuals who have applied for employment or who are or have been employed in California regardless of their immigration status. The bill further declared that for the purposes of enforcing state labor, employment, civil rights, and employee housing laws, a person's immigration status is irrelevant and no inquiry shall be permitted into a person's immigration status, except when necessary to comply with federal immigration law. This bill lends strength to the Department of Industrial Relations and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement longstanding enforcement policies.

Summaries of other legislation related to the Department of Industrial Relations can be found at http://www.dir.ca.gov/OD_pub/2002Summary.htm.