A guide to the new California labor laws in 2021


The new year brings new legislation across the US, and this includes California labor laws. Some of the regulations signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom aim to prevent COVID-19 exposure in the workplace. Others continue the push to give employees more support, such as paid leave and disability insurance. 

Take a look at these new California employment laws that will take effect in 2021. Then, head over to our California labor law guide to brush up on other employment laws that may apply to you. 

New California employment laws (2021)

Independent contractors

The “Save Local Journalism Act” gives newspaper publishers a one-year extension until they have to reclassify newspaper carriers as independent contractors under the ABC rule passed last year. The extension will expire on January 1, 2022. 

Additionally, Proposition 22 was passed, which allows rideshare companies to classify their drivers as independent contractors. Although they are not considered employees, the new law does require that specific labor and wage policies be put in place for the drivers, which you can view here. 

Notice and reporting obligations for COVID-19 exposure

AB 685 allows California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health to issue Stop Work Orders to businesses with a serious COVID-19 risk. 

In the case of COVID-19 exposure, the law requires employers to provide written notice within one business day to all employees. Employers must provide: 

  • Written notice to all employees who could have experienced exposure at the worksite. Employers should also provide notice to any other third parties who were also at the exposed worksite. 
  • Written notification to employee representatives like unions. 
  • Written notice about the available COVID-19 benefits that employees can receive. These  include workers’ compensation, leave, supplemental paid sick leave.
  • Notification of disinfection and safety protocols put in place to prevent any more exposure. 

AB 685 also expands COVID-19 exposure reporting requirements. The State Department of Public Health classifies an outbreak as an area with at least 3 cases within a 2-week period. In this case, the employer must report the outbreak within 48 hours of learning of it. 

If an employee dies of COVID-19, the employer must report their name, phone number, job description, and worksite. They must also report the address of the business and the NAICS code of the worksite. 

The California labor law takes effect January 1, 2021.

CFRA expansion

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) was expanded to include businesses with at least 5 employees, as opposed to the current law, which only covers businesses with at least 50 employees. 

The expansion means as of January 1, 2021, most employers in California must provide employees who have worked for at least a year and 1,250 hours in the year before the leave with 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave. Employees can use the leave to manage their own serious health condition, or that of a family member. They may also take the leave to bond with a new child. 

On-call rest breaks 

Employers are allowed to require security guards and employees in safety-sensitive positions at petroleum facilities to remain on call and on the premises during work breaks if:

  • collective bargaining agreements apply to them
  • if they make more than minimum wage. Security guards must earn more than $1 above minimum wage. Petroleum facility employees must make 30% more than minimum wage.

The laws take effect January 1, 2021.

Discrimination complaints 

Employees now have 1 year instead of 6 months to file a complaint of discriminatory discharge regarding any law the Labor Commissioner enforces. 

The law takes effect January 1, 2021.

Child abuse reporting 

HR employees working for businesses that have at least five workers and employ minors are now designated as mandated child abuse reporters. The HR employees must report any instances of physical abuse, sexual abuse, unlawful injury, neglect, or willful cruelty or unjustified punishment. 

The law also now requires frontline supervisors who work for businesses with at least five employees that also employ minors to take on the mandated child abuse reporter role. However, they are only mandated reporters of sexual abuse. 

Employers who fall under this law’s requirements must train these employees on how to identify and report abuse. 

Kin Care Law amendment

The Kin Care Law was amended to give employees the right to designate what type of sick leave they are taking: personal care or kin care. Employers should change their policies to inform their team they can designate the days themselves. 

The amendment takes effect January 1, 2021.

Family Temporary Disability Insurance 

AB 2399 expands the current Family Temporary Disability Insurance program to allow employees to use it to handle an emergency relating to a military family member on active duty. 

Learn more about the expansion of paid leave here. 

The amendment takes effect January 1, 2021. 

Time off for crime victims 

AB 2992 expands protected time off for domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking to also include victims of any crime that caused them physical harm or mental harm and also a threat of physical injury. 

Tax documents 

Any required documents or notices for termination, modification, or release of earnings withholdings can now be sent electronically. 

The law takes effect January 1, 2021. 

Pay data reporting

Employers with at least 100 workers must submit a “pay data report” to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing no later than March 31, 2021. After that, they must do so annually. 

The pay data report must include: 

  • A breakdown of employees by ethnicity, race, and gender in the following categories:
    • Executive or senior level officials and managers
    • First or mid-level officials and managers
    • Professionals
    • Technicians 
    • Sales workers 
    • Administrative support workers 
    • Craft workers; Operatives 
    • Laborers and helpers
    • Service workers
  • A breakdown of employee compensation by race, ethnicity, and sex in one of 11 pay bands used by US Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • Total hours worked by every employee within a specific pay band during the reporting year. 

No-rehire agreements

Last year the state of California generally banned settlement agreements from preventing an employee who filed a complaint against an employer from court to later obtain a job with the employer. These are known as “no-rehire” agreements. However, there were a few exceptions that this year’s law has expanded upon. 

Currently, employers can use the provision if they made a “good faith determination” that the employee engaged in sexual harassment or sexual assault. The “good faith” exception now includes criminal conduct. 

This exception can only be used if the employer documented the sexual harassment, sexual assault, or criminal conduct before the employee filed the complaint. 

The expansion takes effect January 1, 2021. 

Need help managing these California labor laws? 

Check out our HR and Compliance services to learn about how Homebase can make it easier to follow state and federal employment legislation. 



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