Make Way for Ducklings (and other assistive animals) in the California Workplace

California’s newest regulations pertaining to the rights of the disabled in the workplace require employers to allow “assistive animals” in the workplace as a reasonable accommodation to certain disabled employees.  See CCR 7293.6 & 72940(k).
While service dogs for the visually and hearing impaired have become a more common sight in California’s workplaces, the regulations specifically permit other animals that provide “emotional or other support to a person with a disability….”

An employer need not play “possum” when confronted with an employee’s request to bring an assistive animal to the office.  First, an employer may require the employee to provide medical certification from the employee’s health care provider (which, broadly defined, now includes therapists, acupuncturists, dentists, physicians, clinical social workers, nurse practitioners, midwives, chiropractors, optometrists, psychologists, and podiatrists) certifying that the employee has a disability and that explains why the assistive animal provides an accommodation.

Still got your goat?  An employer may also require a certain level of training, namely that the assistive animal

  • is free from offensive odors and displays habits appropriate to the work environment, for example, the elimination of urine and feces;
  • does not engage in behavior that endangers the health or safety of the individual with a disability or others in the workplace; and
  • is trained to provide assistance for the employee’s disability.

But an employer must act jackrabbit quick, because it is only within the first two weeks that the assistive animal is reporting to the workplace that an employer is expressly permitted to challenge the animal, based on objective evidence of offensive or disruptive behavior.   (It is not clear what happens if an animal becomes violent, dangerous or its toilet training breaks down after the first two weeks).  Thereafter, annually, the employer may (and should) require annual recertification of the employee’s continued need for the support animal.

As assistive animals become more common in the workplace, employers will increasingly be confronted by the potential conflict and disruptions that service animals will provide.  Not only the distraction from the getting the job done, but other employees’ claims of allergy and other reactions to the animals which may then require additional accommodations.  It is not clear how the courts will react to these cases as there is no precedent.

California Considering Minimum Wage Hike

California's Legislature is considering AB10 this session, which would increase California's minimum wage from the current $8 per hour to $8.25 per hour next year, to $8.75 per hour in 2015, and to $9.25 per hour in 2016.  Beginning in 2017 and thereafter, the minimum wage would be automatically adjusted upward based on the state's inflation rate.  Recent legislative efforts to increase California's minimum wage rate have failed and it is not clear whether this bill will fare differently.  However, the bill did recently pass the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee.  California's minimum wage is already one of the highest in the country.  Only a handful of states have minimum wage rates higher than California's. 

On the federal level, legislation has also been introduced to raise the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 per hour to $8.20 per hour three months after the legislation is passed, to $9.15 per hour one year after the legislation is passed, and to $10.10 per hour two years after the legislation is passed.  Starting the third year after the legislation is passed, the federal minimum wage would be automatically adjusted upward based on teh Consumer Price Index.  The federal legislation, known as the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, would also increase the minimum wage for tipped employees over the next three years from $2.13 per hour to 70% of the minimum wage. 

We will post developments on this and other employment-related legislation here.

Reminder:  FMLA-Covered Employers Must Post New FMLA Poster

In recent years, the FMLA has been amended several times, most recently in 2009 under the National Defense Authorization Act and Airline Flight Crew Technical Corrections Act.  While the most recent amendments relate to rarely used FMLA provisions, the DOL recently approved new regulations covering these provisions, and of even more significance to all FMLA-covered employers, issued a new FMLA poster effective today, March 8, 2013.  The new poster is available here.  All employers covered by the FMLA should begin using the new poster immediately.  For more information on the most recent amendments to the FMLA, see our prior post here.  Additional information relating to the new regulations is available on the DOL's website here.

California Adopts New Disability Regulations

We recently posted about California's adoption of new pregnancy disability regulations, which took effect December 30, 2012.  On December 18, California further adopted general disability regulations governing accommodation requirements for non-pregnancy related disabilities.  The disability regulations took effect December 30, 2012 and are available here.  The new regulations are 23 pages in length and contain definitions of mental and physical disabilities, explain essential versus non-essential job functions, and provide detail on employer and employee responsibilities in engaging in the interactive process and providing reasonable accommodation.  The new regulations incorporate the broad disability definitions and standards set forth under the recent amendments to the federal ADA, making the analysis of whether an employee is disabled much more similar under California and federal law than it used to be.  In simplest terms, it is rather easy to qualify as "disabled" under California (and federal) law.  Thus, in disability discrimination cases, the pivotal liability analysis will focus on the employer's response to the disability, not whether the employee qualifies as disabled.  In short, almost any condition (save and except very minor conditions, such as a common cold or scrape) qualifies as a disability as long as it limits a major life activity in some way.  The California regulations make clear, like the recent amendments to the ADA, that mitigating measures (such as glasses or contact lenses) may not be considered when determining whether a condition limits a major life activity.  Additionally, where the major life activity of working is considered, a condition can be determined to limit an employee's ability to work even if the condition only limits the employee's performance of one particular job (as opposed to an entire class of jobs). 

While the new regulations are too lengthy to summarize in their entirety in this post, there are some interesting points worth noting.  First, the regulations contain a lot of discussion about considerations of transferring a disabled employee to a vacant alternative position as a reasonable accommodation.  This concept is not new in and of itself.  However, what is new is that the regulations expressly state that employers are required to give preference to disabled employees when filling a vacant position.  The only exception is that the employer is not required to ignore a bona fide seniority system.

The regulations also discuss the circumstances under which employers may require medical documentation to support a request for reasonable accommodation.  Interesting in this regard is that the regulations imply that an employer is not entitled to request medical documentation in every circumstance.  The regulations instead say that the employer may request medical documentation "when the need for reasonable accommodation is not obvious."  Furthermore, in situations where the employer seeks medical documentation, the employer must communicate its requests (whether initial or supplemental) through the employee (not directly to a medical provider).  California (unlike federal law) continues to disallow employers from seeking diagnosis information or any medical information not necessary to determine the need for reasonable accommodation.  Finally, where the employee needs reasonable accommodation for over a year, the employer may request further medical certification on a yearly basis.  The regulations do not allow requests for recertification at earlier or more frequent intervals. 

All California employers (in particular, their Human Resources or other personnel responsible for managing leave requests or accommodation requests) should review the new disability regulations to ensure that their practices comply with the standards set forth therein. 

Democratic Supermajority in California Legislature Moving Quickly to Significantly Raise California Minimum Wage

Yesterday, on the first day of this year’s California Legislative session, Assemblymember Luis Alejo introduced a bill that would significantly raise California’s minimum wage starting in 2014.  If enacted in its current form, the California minimum wage would go to $8.25 in 2014, $8.75 in 2015 and $9.25 in 2016.  Starting in 2017, the minimum wage would be automatically adjusted based on inflation indexes.  For a complete copy of the bill, you can click here.  With the Democrats holding supermajority status in the Assembly and State Senate, we expect many pro-employee bills to be introduced in the coming months.  We will track them for you throughout the Legislative session.

California Adopts New Regulations Governing Pregnancy Disability Leaves

California's Fair Employment and Housing Commission recently proposed new pregnancy disability regulations.  These proposed regulations underwent rounds of public comment and revision, but were recently finalized and approved by California's Office of Administrative Law.  As such, the new regulations take effect December 30, 2012.  The new regulations are available here.  California employers with 5 or more employees are required to provide up to 4 months of pregnancy disability leave to employees disabled by pregnancy or related conditions and there is no length of service requirement to be eligible for this leave.  The new regulations detail the process an employer is required to follow in accommodating such leave requests, from initial certification through reinstatement.  The regulations also clarify how "four months" is calculated for purposes of identifying the maximum amount of leave available to full-time and part-time employees.  The regulations further make clear (based on a recently enacted California law) that employers are required to maintain group health benefits under the same terms as if the employee was actively reporting to work for up to 4 months, and that this requirement is in addition to any additional obligation to maintain health benefits during an an additionally approved FMLA/CFRA leave of up to 12 weeks.  The new regulations contain a great amount of detail and guidance for employers trying to manage this leave process.  Employers are advised to review the rules and their policies and practices to ensure compliance.

The FEHC also has proposed regulations pending on disability (non-pregnancy) leaves.  Those rules are not yet final, but are available here for employers who are interested in reviewing and possibly providing comment and/or proposed changes to the FEHC. A public comment period is currently underway through December 17, 2012.  We will post developments here.

IRS Mileage Reimbursement Rate Going Up January 1

The Internal Revenue Service has announced the standard mileage reimbursement rate for business travel for 2013.  Effective January 1, 2013, the standard mileage rate will be 56.5 cents per mile (up from 55.5 cents per mile in 2012).   The IRS announcement is here.  Although California employers are not required to reimburse employee travel at the IRS mileage rate, it is advisable to do so because other methods for providing adequate reimbursement are more difficult and burdensome to prove.    

Minimum Wage Increasing for Employees in San Francisco and San Jose

California employers with employees in the cities of San Francisco and San Jose should take note of minimum wage increases for these cities taking effect in 2013.  San Francisco passed its minimum wage ordinance a few years ago, but the minimum wage is subject to adjustment each year based on the cost of living.  Effective January 1, 2013, the minimum wage for employees who perform at least two hours of work per week in the City of San Francisco is $10.55 per hour (up from $10.24/hour in 2012).

This week, San Jose voters approved a local minimum wage for the City of San Jose as well.  With the passage of Measure D, the minimum wage for employees working in San Jose will be $10.00 per hour.  The new San Jose minimum wage takes effect 90 days after the election results are certified, which means approximately March 2013.

The state minimum wage otherwise remains at $8.00 per hour. 

California Increases Minimum Exempt Pay Rates for Computer Professionals and Licensed Physicians/Surgeons

California Labor Code sections 515.5 and 515.6 provide an overtime exemption for certain computer professionals and licensed physicians/surgeons who meet specified criteria for exemption.  One of those criteria is that they earn specified minimum pay, the amount of which is subject to annual adjustment by California’s Department of Industrial Relations (DIR).  The DIR has announced increases to the minimum pay for these workers as follows:

  • The DIR has increased the computer software employee's minimum hourly rate of pay for exempt status from $38.89 to $39.90, the minimum monthly salary from $6,752.19 to $6,927.75, and the minimum annual salary from $81,026.25 to $83,132.93, effective January 1, 2013; and
  • The DIR has increased the licensed physicians and surgeons employee's minimum hourly rate of pay for exempt status from $70.86 to $72.70, effective January 1,2013.

The DIR’s announcements are here and here.  Employers relying on these exemptions for  exempt computer professionals and licensed physicians/surgeons will want to take note of these changes and adjust their pay practices accordingly.

Webinar: New Laws & Regulations in the Golden State for 2013

2012 has been one of the most active years in California labor and employment law in recent times.  Changes have been made in many fields, including, but not limited to, wage and hour law and regulation, personnel file inspection rules, immigration, social media regulations, and California discrimination laws.  Some of these updates are already effective.  Many others become effective on January 1, 2013.  Please join CDF Partners Mark Spring and Robin Largent for a complimentary webinar on November 27, 2012 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. PST, during which they will update attendees on these legal developments, as well as what changes employers will need to make to policies and practices to ensure compliance with these developments.  For more information and to register, click here.  This webinar is approved for MCLE and HRCI credit.

Editor
Cal Labor Law

Robin E. Largent is a Partner in CDF’s Sacramento office and may be reached at 916.361.0991 or rlargent@cdflaborlaw.com BIO »

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