SB 951: Paid family leave wage replacement beginning January 1, 2025
According to the World Policy Center, the United States is one of only 2 nations in the world without paid family leave, sharing this disgraceful distinction with Papua New Guinea, a nation with a population smaller than Los Angeles County. Since its enactment in 2002, California’s Paid Family Leave (“PFL”) program has been a model for a country woefully behind the rest of the world in terms of paid leave. Yet, with skyrocketing costs of living in the Golden State, countless workers living paycheck to paycheck, and a paid leave program that covered only a little more than half of workers’ regular wages, many Californians still could not afford to take time off. The California Budget and Policy Center estimates that high and middle-wage workers have used the State’s Paid Family Leave program at a rate 4 times the rate of lower-wage workers. Without adequate wage replacement, lower-wage workers, who are disproportionately Latinx, Black, and female-identifying, have put off seeking urgent medical care, lost precious time with newborn and adopted children, and left ailing loved ones home alone to care for themselves.
SB 951 has the potential to make paid family medical leave a reality for all California workers. Starting January 1, 2025, employees who earn 70 percent or less than the average wage in California will be eligible to receive 90 percent of their wages through the Paid Family Leave and State Disability Insurance (“SDI”) programs. Those who make more will receive 70 percent of their pay. With this expansion, California continues to blaze the trail towards fully paid family medical leave.
As climate-related disasters increase in intensity and frequency, employees are regularly expected (and sometimes required) to place their lives in danger by continuing to work through these calamities. For example, during recent tornadoes in Illinois, Amazon not only refused to let workers leave a warehouse in the expected route of a tornado but also refused to allow its workers to access communications devices to track the dangerous conditions. The warehouse was destroyed, and several workers were killed. Similarly, during the Getty Fire, domestic workers and gardeners were required to continue working in Los Angeles evacuation zones. Agricultural workers in Sonoma County were required to continue picking produce during the Atlas/Tubbs fires. There were landscapers and housekeepers, along with children, among the 23 lost and 167 injured in the 2018 Montecito debris flow.
SB 1044 was designed to enhance workers’ protections during natural disasters by requiring employers to allow workers to have access to their cell phones or other communications devices during these emergencies to seek emergency assistance, assess the safety of the situation, or communicate with a person to confirm their safety and by permitting workers to leave a workplace or worksite within an area affected by an “emergency condition” if they feel that they must do so for their safety.
“Emergency condition” is defined to mean the existence of either of the following: (i) conditions of disaster or extreme peril to the safety of persons or property at the workplace or worksite caused by natural forces or a criminal act; or (ii) an order to evacuate a workplace, a worksite, a worker’s home, or the school of a worker’s child due to natural disaster or a criminal act. SB 1044 specifically excludes a health pandemic from the definition of “emergency condition.”
Sadly, the California Chamber of Commerce designated this common-sense prophylactic as a “job killer,” as it routinely does with laws designed to protect employees and consumers, and many Republicans voted against it.
On June 24, 2022, the radical, activist, and far-right-wing conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court did something that even the über conservative Lochner-era Supreme Court didn’t do. The (Trump) Court, in a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Samuel Alito Jr. in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, 142 S.Ct. 2228 (2022), reversed a pair of cases that Justice Antonin Scalia’s acolyte, Judge Michael Luttig, had called “super stare decisis” – Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992). In doing so, the five radical right-wing Justices took away a fundamental constitutional right (the right to choose) for the first time in U.S. history. Perhaps most surprising about the Dobbs decision is that the right to choose was cavalierly stolen from the Country even though it was repeatedly affirmed and re-affirmed year after year for nearly 50 years in opinions written by and/or concurred in by 16 Justices – 10 different Republican Justices nominated by 5 different Republican Presidents and six Democratic Justices.
Justice Clarence Thomas, in his concurring opinion, advocated for the Supreme Court to go even further toward a dystopian world straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale and reverse all of the Court’s prior substantive due process decisions, including Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965), which held that the right to privacy protected against state restrictions on contraception.
In response to both the horrific Dobbs decision and threats by Republicans to take away other reproductive rights Americans have taken for granted for decades, Governor Newsom signed SB 523, the Contraceptive Equity Act of 2022, into law on September 27, 2022. This law amends California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) to add “reproductive health decision-making” as a legally protected category. “Reproductive health decision-making” is defined to include, but not be limited to, “a decision to use or access a particular drug, device, product, or medical service for reproductive health.”
On February 2, 2023, the Biden-Harris Administration, to mark the then-upcoming 30th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), announced a series of new actions to support and advance America’s federal public employees. In this regard, President Biden issued a Memorandum For The Heads Of Executive Departments And Agencies, strongly encouraging those heads to provide access to leave for Federal employees when they need it, including during their first year of service, to ensure employees are able to bond with a new child, care for a family member with a serious health condition, address their own serious health condition, help manage family affairs when a family member is called to active duty, or grieve after the death of a family member. President Biden further directed the Office of Personnel Management is further directed to provide recommendations regarding “safe leave” to support Federal employees’ access to paid leave and leave without pay for purposes related to seeking safety and recovering from domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Those may include obtaining medical treatment, seeking assistance from organizations that provide services to survivors, seeking relocation, and taking related legal action.
For decades, employers have used non-competition agreements to not only artificially lower the salaries of their employees but also to render those employees into something akin to indentured servitude.
On January 5, 2023, the Federal Trade Commission proposed a new rule – accessible at https://www.ftc.gov/legal-library/browse/federal-register-notices/non-compete-clause-rulemaking — that would ban employers from imposing non-competes on their workers, a widespread and often exploitative practice that suppresses wages, hampers innovation, and blocks entrepreneurs from starting new businesses. The proposed rule provides that: “It is an unfair method of competition for an employer to enter into or attempt to enter into a non-compete clause with a worker; maintain with a worker a non-compete clause; or represent to a worker that the worker is subject to a non-compete clause where the employer has no good faith basis to believe that the worker is subject to an enforceable non-compete clause.” The proposed rule would also require the rescission of all non-competition agreements entered into before the date the new rule takes effect.
By stopping these unfair non-competition agreements, the FTC estimates not only that wages might be increased by nearly $300 billion per year but also that expanded career opportunities would abound for about 30 million Americans.
On December 7, 2022, President Joe Biden signed the Speak Out Act, which bans the use of pre-dispute non-disclosure and non-disparagement contract clauses involving sexual assault and sexual harassment. The new law renders unenforceable non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses related to allegations of sexual assault and/or sexual harassment that are entered into “before the dispute arises.” The new law does not prohibit the use of these agreements completely. The Speak Out Act exclusively prohibits and nullifies pre-dispute non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements and does not apply to post-dispute agreements. Accordingly, the act only applies to instances before a sexual harassment, or sexual assault dispute arises. The act also does not apply to trade secrets, proprietary information, or other types of employee complaints such as wage theft, age discrimination, or race discrimination.