New California Law Protects Employees Claiming Retaliation
By Laura Mahoney
Employees or state labor officials can block employers more quickly from retaliating against employees who complain about alleged workplace law violations under a bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D).
S.B. 306, authored by Sen. Robert M. Hertzberg (D), is backed by labor unions as a way to protect workplace whistle-blowers. The new law will help workers who face demotion, reassignment, or firing while their complaints are being investigated and after a case is complete, according to Hertzberg.
Brown signed the bill Oct. 3 and it takes effect Jan. 1, 2018.
The new law allows the California Labor Commissioner or an employee to seek a court injunction blocking an employer from retaliating against an employee for reporting workplace law violations during an investigation into those alleged violations. Although current law already protects whistle-blowers from retaliation, an employee facing retaliation often must wait up to three years while their retaliation claims are resolved, according to a legislative staff analysis of the bill.
The commissioner also has new authority to issue administrative citations and penalties against employers for failure to comply with anti-retaliation orders. Without the new law, the commissioner or the employee must go to court to enforce orders. Penalties are $100 a day for a maximum of $20,000.
The commissioner also has new authority to start an investigation without first receiving a complaint if retaliation may have occurred while a workplace complaint is being adjudicated.
Employer groups including the California Chamber of Commerce and California Retailers Association opposed the bill, arguing in a letter to lawmakers that it will expose them to constant threats of civil lawsuits, costs, and penalties for minor violations or frivolous claims.
“This expansion will allow the Labor Commissioner’s office to unilaterally conduct investigations of an employer’s workforce, without even providing notice to the employer of the allegations for which it is being investigated,” the groups said. “It places an employer in an unfair predicament of trying to defend itself from frivolous claims that lack merit.”
The law is backed by the California Labor Federation, California State Building and Construction Trades Council, and the Consumer Attorneys of California.
To contact the reporter on this story: Laura Mahoney in Sacramento, Calif. at LMahoney@bna.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at firstname.lastname@example.org
For More Information
Text of the bill is at http://src.bna.com/s9i.