Jan. 3 2019 12:00 AM

A minimum wage increase is one of the changes.

A new year always brings with it new laws. If you’re a green industry employer in California, some labor and employment statutes that became effective Jan. 1 may affect the way you run your business, according to a story published on the Lexology website. They result from bills passed in 2018, among the last to be signed into law by outgoing Governor Jerry Brown who will be leaving office Jan. 7.

They include a minimum wage increase from $11 per hour to $12 per hour, applicable to employers with 26 employees or more. The exempt annual salary threshold also increased from $45,760 to $49,920. Employers with 25 employees or less will be required to pay $11.00 per hour in 2019, a 50-cent-per-hour increase over the previous rate of $10.50 per hour. The exempt annual salary threshold for businesses employing 25 people or less will increase from $43,680 to $45,760.

SB 1300 makes several significant changes to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) as of January 1. These changes make it essential for employers operating in the state to review their equal employment opportunity (EEO) policies and practices to ensure compliance and to mitigate risk.

According to the story, this new law marks a “drastic change,” making it easier to bring FEHA harassment claims.

A single incident of harassing conduct is now sufficient to create a triable issue regarding the existence of a hostile work environment, if the harassing conduct has unreasonably interfered with the plaintiff's work performance or created an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment. The new law rejects the higher "severe or pervasive" standard for unlawful harassment, a precedent established in earlier decisions by the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

A plaintiff need not prove that his or her tangible productivity has declined as a result of the harassment. Now, a plaintiff need only prove that a reasonable person subjected to the discriminatory conduct would find that the harassment so altered working conditions as to make it more difficult to do the job.

The existence of a hostile work environment will now depend upon the totality of the circumstances. Under this framework, a discriminatory remark, even if made outside the context of an employment decision or uttered by a non-decision maker, may be relevant circumstantial evidence of discrimination.

Employers are also prohibited from requiring an employee, as a condition of employment or continued employment, or in exchange for a raise or bonus, to sign a release of a claim or right under the FEHA.

Other new statutes may affect you as well if you do business in the Golden State. Among them are SB 1343 which extends harassment prevention training requirements to smaller employers and nonsupervisory employees; SB 224, which makes sexual harassment claims easier to bring under California Civil Code Section 51.9; SB 1252, which gives employees the right to receive a copy of itemized wage statements and AB 1976, which expands the accommodation requirements for employees who are lactating.