SPECIAL REPORT – California lawmakers are having discussions around bringing back extended COVID-19 sick leave, vaccine passports, an $18 minimum wage and other policies that could impact businesses going forward.
“2022 is going to be a very busy legislative year,” said California Chamber of Commerce CEO Jennifer Barrera.
Here are some of the issues ahead for California businesses this year.
Pandemic rules and paid leave
Los Angeles Democrat Wendy Carrillo said she’s looking for an opportunity to bring back extended COVID-19 sick leave as the Omicron variant continues to spread into the new year. Since California’s federal assistance to help cover the cost has been depleted – Carrillo pointed to the state’s projected $31 billion budget surplus.
“There’s an opportunity for the governor and for the legislature to ensure that the health of the 40 million people across the state of California is prioritized,” said Carrillo.
Also in discussions is a boost to the share of wages that workers receive when they take paid family leave – from at least 60% to 90% of a worker’s highest quarterly earnings in the past 18 months.
“The current (wage) replacement rate is especially inadequate for low wage workers,” said Assembly Labor and Employment Committee Chair San Jose Democrat Ash Kalra.
Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a rate increase that the legislature passed last year, stating that it would create “significant new costs.” In his veto statement, Newsom said he looked forward to partnering with the legislature on the issue of family leave access.
In 2021, days after Oakland Democrat Buffy Wicks proposed a bill that would have required all workers to provide proof of vaccination to their employers or submit to weekly testing, she put the idea on hold. Wicks stated she would take time to work with colleagues and stakeholders “to make this the strongest bill possible headed into 2022.”
Since then, the Biden administration’s vaccine requirement for large companies in November, has drawn lawsuits and is currently winding its way through the legal system, as well as New York City’s imposed vaccine requirement for all in-person workers at private businesses facing similar repercussions.
“We cannot be a New York,” said California Business Roundtable President Robert Lapsley. “We need flexibility. And, so, hopefully, the governor, OSHA, et cetera, will not go down that path.”
It’s unclear if lawmakers are going to move forward with a vaccine passport for California. Wicks’ Communications Director Erin Ivie wrote that the office was “still in the process of considering what types of vaccine legislation we hope to introduce in the upcoming session.”
Cal/OSHA spokesperson Erika Monterroza stated she was not aware of plans to roll out a vaccine requirement for all workers.
Minimum Wage Measure
Entrepreneur Joe Sanberg has put forward a measure that would increase the minimum wage in California to $18 per hour by 2025, with an additional year for small employers to comply.
Housing Affordability Measure
Attorney Stanley R. Apps filed a measure aimed at housing affordability that would raise renters’ income tax credit and increase the amount of a property’s value that is tax exempt while raising taxes on commercial and residential properties worth more than $4 million.
Private Attorney Measure
President of the California New Car Dealers Association Brian Maas filed a measure, backed by the California Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, that would repeal a law that lets employees sue employers over certain labor violations and receive monetary penalties. Instead, the law would fund and provide a system that provides employees with results without the cost of an attorney.
Small Business, Taxes and Employee Data Collection
California Small Business Rent Relief Act
Assembly Committee on Jobs and Economic Development Chair Corona (D) Sabrina Cervantes, said she plans to continue work on a bill that would incentivize landlords to give small businesses rent relief.
Unemployment Insurance tax increase for Businesses
As more workers lost their jobs and collected benefits during the pandemic, California’s unemployment insurance fund expanded and a debt is now owed to the federal government.
“Unless lawmakers intervene, the debt is set to be paid down by a tax increase for businesses that would show up on their 2022 taxes,” said Barerra.
Employee Data Collection
California Labor Federation Legislative Director Eduard Martinez says he’s increasingly hearing from unions that employers are collecting data on workers without their knowledge or consent. Tracking work time on the computer, logging what’s being typed, monitoring websites, apps and emails, grabbing screenshots from the computer, and activating webcams are some of the ways employers monitor workers at home.
The 2020 California data privacy law is set to expire in 2023.
“There’s an opportunity to get some privacy rights for workers to curb some of the abuses,” said Martinez.