Looking to hire in California? Here are a few laws you need to know

WASHINGTON — California would famously be the world’s eighth-biggest country if it were a separate nation — and that’s the feeling HR pros can get as they navigate the matrix of state laws covering family leave, hiring convicts and paid time off.

Brenda Kasper, partner at San Diego-based labor law firm Kasper & Frank, spoke about the stakes involved at the Society for Human Resource Management legislative conference.

“If you’re new to California HR, congrats, this is a career builder,” Kasper said. “The other cool thing is [California] leads the country in trends; what happens there usually ends up at the federal level.”

California is one of three states to approve a Ban the Box law, which means employers are prohibited from asking about criminal history on job applications. The law also stipulates that employers can only run background checks after offering applicants a conditional job offer, which can only be rescinded if the conviction is directly related to the type of work they’ll be doing, Kasper said.

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“When you are hiring in California, you need to be careful about how you do it,” Kasper said. “If you decide not to follow through with a job offer because of a conviction, you have to give notice in five days on why [the conviction] is job related.”

It’s difficult to prove a previous conviction is job-related, Kasper said, adding that the law was created to help former inmates turn their lives around.

“It’s a tight standard. If the person has a DUI but won’t be driving for the job, you probably don’t have a case not to hire them,” Kasper said. “However, if they’ve had a few DUI’s, and one recently, you might be able to say you don’t believe they’re responsible.”

The Golden State is also leading efforts to provide time off to employees so they can care for ailing loved ones, or a new child. California Paid Family Leave provides six weeks of partial paid leave to employees welcoming a new child, or those needing time off to help a family member with a medical condition. The New Parent Leave Act of 2018 gives California employees, in companies with 20 or more people, access to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave.

“Many companies fall under both laws, so you’ll need to pay attention and make sure you’re compliant,” Kasper said.

California’s take on PTO is different from the rest of the country, and employers need to know the rules to avoid potential litigation, Kasper said. Many companies provide a designated amount of vacation time that expires at the end of the year, but California doesn’t allow that.

“Vacation isn’t a calendar year accrual in California, it’s a wage,” Kasper said. “Employee vacation time can’t expire, but it can cap out.”

Most states don’t consider sick time to be vacation time, but in California, they’re essentially the same thing, Kasper said.

“Not only are people entitled to the time, you can’t discipline them for using it,” Kasper said. “If they call in sick a day before a holiday, it would be considered discrimination to deny it. They can use sick time for what they want.”

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