Employment and labor laws are constantly evolving, and as an employee in California, it’s important to stay up-to-date with the changes so you are aware of your rights. A number of new employment and labor laws went into effect beginning in January of this year. Your employers should already be aware of these laws, but there’s a chance that they are not compliant. Here’s a look at some of the biggest changes that may affect you in the workplace:

Minimum Wage

As of January 1, 2017, the minimum wage in the state of California increased from $10.00 to $10.50, which means full-time workers will be able to earn an extra $20 per week. However, this change does not apply to employers with less than 25 employees, who are not legally required to pay their employees $10.50 until 2018. There is currently a schedule in place to increase the state’s minimum wage slowly until 2023.

Although the state minimum wage is only $10.50, some cities have passed legislation that increases the minimum wage even further. San Diego’s minimum wage increased to $11.50 at the beginning of this year, and Los Angeles will increase its minimum wage to $12.00 per hour beginning in July.

Equal Pay

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a new law in 2016 to expand the existing Fair Pay Act (FPA). The prior FPA required employers to pay males and females equal wages for substantially similar work unless the employer could prove the difference in pay was due to a merit system, seniority, or other legal reason. The law that was signed by Governor Brown expanded this coverage to also protect employees from discrimination based on race or ethnicity. Employers must pay equal wages to all employees who perform similar work, regardless of their race or ethnicity.

Another law that was signed in 2016 expanded the FPA even further. Assembly Bill No. 1676 prohibits employers from using an employee’s prior salary to justify why that employee is paid differently than other employees of the opposite sex that are performing similar work. For example, let’s say you currently make $50,000 per year and are applying for a position as an account manager at another company. Other account managers of the opposite sex within the organization make around $70,000 per year, but after finding out that your previous employer only paid you $50,000, you are only offered $55,000 for the account manager role. This would be prohibited under the new law that took effect this year. This law was established in an attempt to narrow the gender wage gap in California, which has not narrowed much over the last several years.

Criminal Background

As of this year, employers are not allowed to ask job applicants to disclose information on any arrests, detentions, court dispositions, adjudications, or diversion programs that were handled by the juvenile court system. If you have a juvenile criminal record, you are not required to tell potential employers about this even if the job application asks about prior convictions.

Extended Protection For Disabled Individuals

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or job candidates based on their race, religion, sex, age, disability, and sexual orientation. Prior to this year, the definition of “employee” under the FEHA did not include disabled individuals who were given special licenses to work at nonprofit organizations, rehabilitation facilities, or day programs. This means that these disabled individuals were not protected against discrimination under FEHA as of last year. Thanks to the introduction of Assembly Bill No. 488, disabled individuals with these special licenses are now covered under FEHA. As of January 1st, disabled individuals with special licenses are legally permitted to bring discrimination claims against their employers.

Immigration-Related Practices

Employers must verify that employees are legally permitted to work in the U.S., but there are certain restrictions around how they go about doing so. Employers were already prohibited from asking employees to provide documentation outside of what is required by federal law or refusing to honor documents that appeared to be genuine. This year, this law was expanded to prevent employers from using unfair immigration-related practices to reinvestigate current employees to determine if they are still authorized to work in the U.S.

National Origin Discrimination

Late last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released guidelines on national origin discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Although this is not a new law—and not one that is specific to California—it’s important to familiarize yourself with the information included in the EEOC’s guidelines.

First, the EEOC clarified that national origin discrimination includes any form of discrimination based on a person’s true or perceived national origin. This means a boss who is discriminating against someone because he believes the person is Mexican even though he is not is just as guilty as a boss who is discriminating against someone who is actually Mexican. It’s also illegal to discriminate against someone because he is associated with another person of a certain national origin. For example, you cannot be discriminated against because of the national origin of your spouse.

Employers also cannot make employment decisions based on someone’s accent or fluency of English unless superior English skills is required in order for the employee to perform the job duties. Furthermore, employers cannot establish “English-only” policies in the workplace unless employees need to speak English for safety purposes or in order to perform their job duties.

If your employer has violated any of these new labor and employment laws, seek legal representation from an attorney at Shegerian & Associates as soon as possible. Schedule a free consultation with our team of knowledgeable attorneys by calling 1-800-GOT-FIRED or visiting us online.