As we embark on the year 2024, California’s employment law landscape is poised to continue to present an unfriendly environment for employers. This article proffers some predictions for California employment law in 2024, examining potential legislation and emerging legal trends. Here are a few likely scenarios the Golden State might have in store for employers in the upcoming year.
1. Continued increase in PAGA litigation.
I’m not going out on a limb in predicting that PAGA litigation over meal and rest breaks will continue to rise in 2024. However, I will predict that PAGA claims will start expanding more into other wage and hour allegations, including for claims of expense reimbursement and claims for paid sick leave under California’s Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 – especially with the increase of paid sick leave under the Act in 2024. In March 2023, a California court of appeals held that plaintiffs could bring PAGA claims for alleged violations of California’s paid sick leave requirements in the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014. In Wood v. Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, the court held, “Given the perceived necessity for mandating minimum paid sick leave, coupled with its documented understanding that traditional government institutions would be unable to adequately assure compliance, it seems inconceivable that the Legislature intended to prohibit PAGA actions to enforce the Act.” As employers continue to place defenses against the traditional meal and rest break claims, it is likely that plaintiffs will be turning to other provisions in the Labor Code, such as the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act, for alternative PAGA claims.
2. Industry focused regulations will become more prevalent.
On September 28, 2023, Governor Newsom signed AB 1228 into law, which repealed the FAST Act and implemented new regulations of the fast-food industry in California and will be raising the minimum wage for the fast-food industry to $20 per hour on April 1, 2024. AB 1228 applies to national fast food chains, which are defined as “limited-service restaurants consisting of more than 60 establishments nationally that share a common brand, or that are characterized by standardized options for decor, marketing, packaging, products, and services, and which are primarily engaged in providing food and beverages for immediate consumption on or off premises where patrons generally order or select items and pay before consuming, with limited or no table service. Just as AB 1228 targets the fast-food industry, I predict that California will continue to see legislation that targets specific industries: because the law does not apply to every employer across the state, the opposition to such legislation is much less. And, of course, once the law is passed and has gained traction in one industry, it is easier for the legislature to expand the law to other industries.
3. Local jurisdictions will continue their employment regulations, including increased paid sick leave and minimum wages.
As has been occurring over the last few years, local cities and counties will continue to pass employment laws or increase their local requirements for minimum wage and paid sick leave. As the UC Berkeley Labor Center reports, before 2012 only five local jurisdictions had minimum wage laws, but now there are 59 cities and counties that do. I predict that local jurisdictions will start expanding their employment regulations and not only regulate minimum wage and paid sick leave, but many other aspects of the employment relationship.
4. Increase in criminal actions brought in connection with Labor Code violations.
On September 6, 2023, District Attorney Gascon announced the creation of a new “Labor Justice Unit” (LJU) that will focus on pursuing criminal charges for employment violations. Gascon said in the press release that the LJU “will bolster our existing fight to end wage theft and labor exploitation by providing a dedicated team of seasoned prosecutors and investigators whose focus will be the enforcement of these laws.” The State Labor Commissioner, Lilia Garcia-Brower, joined Gascon in the announcement, and stated, “California needs more criminal prosecutions of wage theft to protect workers and honest employers from unfair competition. My office will continue to work closely with the LADA office to hold perpetrators accountable.”
5. Time rounding polices will likely be not permissible.
The California Supreme Court is currently reviewing the issue of whether California employers are permitted to use neutral time-rounding practices to calculate employees’ work time for payroll purposes. The case is Camp v. Home Depot, and we expect a decision within the next 30 to 60 days. I’m predicting that the Supreme Court will rule that employers cannot use time rounding any longer in California. In 2021, the California Supreme Court held in Donohue v. AMN Services LLC, that employers may not use time rounding policies in context of meal periods. I expect this line of reasoning will be broadened to apply for all timekeeping purposes.