Newsletter: New year brings new laws to California workplaces

An illustration of a group of people around a boardroom table.
California’s new workplace laws include diversity requirements for corporate boards.
(Rose Wong for The Times)

Good morning. We’re L.A. Times Business reporter Margot Roosevelt and assistant editor Lauren Raab, filling in for Rachel Schnalzer to bring you our weekly newsletter. As the new year begins, new laws affecting workplaces throughout California are kicking in.

The slate of laws — heavily shaped by COVID-19 — is different from what lawmakers had in mind a year ago.

Before the pandemic hit, California’s labor-friendly legislature had launched an ambitious agenda. Broad healthcare reforms would rein in hospital costs. The wealthy would pay higher taxes. The state’s paid sick leave mandate would expand. Garment worker wages would rise with the abolition of piecework.

That didn’t happen.

For state lawmakers, 2020 “became a year about saving lives,” said Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center.


They produced sweeping policies that require California businesses to offer employees more help to cope with the pandemic, including measures on disclosure of workplace infections and on job-protected leave to care for sick family members.

They managed to pass some non-pandemic workplace laws as well. One allows more businesses to hire gig workers. Another requires publicly traded companies to diversify their boards.

Here’s a look at some of the most significant changes for workplaces.

Minimum wages are going up. OK, this one isn’t a new law; it’s the result of an existing law that has been taking effect in stages. As of Jan. 1, employers with more than 25 employees must pay at least $14 an hour. Those with fewer must pay at least $13.

Many parts of California have higher minimum wages. In the city of Los Angeles and unincorporated parts of L.A. County, the minimum will rise to $15 for all employers July 1.

Access to family leave is expanding. Until now, only employees at companies with 50 workers or more were guaranteed that they could take 12 weeks of leave to care for sick family members — and that their jobs would be waiting for them afterward.

A law that took effect Jan. 1 requires companies with five or more employees to allow them 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for a newborn, newly adopted child or sick family member. It expands the definition of “family member” beyond spouses and children to include grandparents, grandchildren, siblings and in-laws.


Coronavirus outbreak rules are getting stricter. A law that took effect Jan. 1 toughens rules requiring employers to report cases and penalties governing outbreaks.

Under the new law, a business must notify employees within one business day of learning of any potential coronavirus exposure. It must also offer them information on benefits such as workers’ compensation and sick leave; on protection against retaliation; and on the company’s virus safety measures.

Employers must alert local public health agencies within 48 hours of a coronavirus outbreak, defined in most instances as three lab-confirmed cases at a single workplace within a two-week period. And the state’s Department of Public Health must publish that information, detailing the number and frequency of cases and outbreaks by industry on its website.

The law also gives Cal/OSHA authority to immediately shut down a worksite where employees are deemed to be at risk of “imminent hazard” from the virus, without going through a 30-day administrative process.

Rules about independent contractors are adjusted. The 2019 law known as Assembly Bill 5 limits the ability of businesses to classify workers as independent contractors rather than as employees.

Assembly Bill 2257, passed last year, revises some of AB 5’s provisions, including those governing business-to-business and referral agency transactions. Changes also affect a number of occupations, including writers, photographers, home inspectors, real estate appraisers, landscape architects, several kinds of consulting services, and various music and performing arts jobs.


Industries whose workers are considered to be at “high risk” of misclassification — including janitorial, trucking, retail, in-home care, and construction services — are still covered by AB 5’s restrictions on independent contracting.

Drivers for Uber, Lyft, Doordash and other app-based companies were exempted from AB 5 when voters approved Proposition 22, a November ballot initiative.

Diversity requirements for corporate boards are phasing in. In 2018, California enacted the first U.S. law requiring gender diversity on corporate boards. The law applies to publicly traded companies that are based in the state, and it stipulates that by the end of 2021, boards with five directors must include two women, and boards with six or more directors must include three women.

A separate law that took effect in September requires such companies to include at least one board member “from an underrepresented community” by the end of 2021, and as many as three by the end of 2022, depending on the size of the board. It defines such a board member as “an individual who self-identifies as Black, African American, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Native Hawaiian, or Alaska Native, or who self-identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.”

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◆ Could you use some extra money in the new year? Kathy Kristof breaks down five side jobs that are in high demand.

◆ Speaking of side jobs, some Grubhub drivers say that a change to the app is eating into their tips. Suhauna Hussain explains how the workers feel this change jeopardized a usually generous season.

◆ When your spouse dies, there are immediate financial steps you should take. Certified financial planner Liz Weston provides a checklist.

◆ Wall Street can now bet on the price of California water, writes columnist Michael Hiltzik. He describes what the market can do — and perhaps more important, not do.

◆ From Costco and Target to TV sitcom sets, L.A. workplaces are getting hit with coronavirus outbreaks. Times metro staffers explain how retail establishments as well as other businesses deemed essential remain areas of growing public health concern.

One more thing

U.S. airlines have protocols intended to protect passengers from the coronavirus. But how often people with COVID-19 board planes is impossible to know, Hugo Martín reports. He describes how passengers are getting on planes despite showing COVID-19 symptoms and testing positive for the coronavirus.

How can this be stopped? Passenger rights advocates, flight attendant unions and academics say the U.S. Department of Transportation should adopt uniform standards for airline safety, including a mask mandate enforced with steep fines. They’re also calling on the agency to put more resources into contact tracing and improved access to coronavirus tests that passengers can take before a flight, Martín writes.

Have a question about work, business or finances during the COVID-19 pandemic, or tips for coping that you’d like to share? Send us an email at, and we may include it in a future newsletter.