Minimum wage rates have increased in various California cities and counties, including a new $15.00 rate for workers in Los Angeles (city and county).  Employers also need to familiarize themselves with the revised COVID-19 prevention emergency temporary standards, which became effective on June 17, 2021.  Additionally, California employers who do not offer an employer-sponsored retirement plan must register for CalSavers, the deadlines of which vary depending on the number of workers employed.

Minimum Wage Increases:

Effective January 1, 2021, the minimum wage in California increased to $13 per hour for employees with 25 or fewer employees and $14 per hour for employers with 26 or more employees.  But local laws that provide for higher pay take precedent and must be followed.

Effective July 1, 2021, many local minimum wage rates have increased in several California cities and counties, including Los Angeles (city and county), Santa Monica, and Pasadena (all at $15.00 per hour for all sizes of employers).  Employers throughout California should check their local ordinances to ensure compliance with applicable minimum wage laws.

COVID-19 – Changes to Emergency Temporary Standards:

The new standards are effective as of June 17, 2021 and include changes to face covering and physical distancing requirements.  The most important changes include:

  1. Fully vaccinated employees without symptoms do not need to be tested or quarantined after close contact with COVID-19 cases (unless they have actual symptoms of COVID-19).
  2. There are no face covering requirements outdoors (except during outbreaks of the virus), regardless of vaccination status (but make sure your employees are trained on the recommendations for outdoor usage of face coverings).
  3. Absent an outbreak, employers may allow fully vaccinated employees to not wear face coverings indoors (but the vaccination status of such employees must be documented).
  4. Upon request, employers must provide unvaccinated employees with approved respirators for voluntary use when working indoors or in a vehicle with others.
  5. Employers may not retaliate against employees for wearing face coverings.
  6. Regardless of employee vaccination status, there are no physical distancing or barrier requirements except for the following:
    • Employers must evaluate whether it is necessary to implement physical distancing and barriers during an outbreak (defined as 3 or more cases in an exposed group of employees)
    • Employers must implement physical distancing and barriers during a major outbreak (defined as 20 or more cases in an exposed group of employees)
  7. Employers must evaluate ventilation systems to maximize the influx of outdoor air and increase filtration efficiency, as well as evaluate the use of additional air cleaning systems.

Certain key requirements of the prior standards (from November 2020) will remain in place, including:

  1. A written COVID-19 prevention program is still required. Employers must provide training and instruction to employees regarding such program and the employee’s rights under the emergency standards.
  2. Employers must provide notification to public health departments of outbreaks, as well as notify employees of instances of exposure and close contact.
  3. Employers must offer testing to employees after potential exposures.
  4. The requirements for responding to COVID-19 cases and outbreaks remain in place, as well as the quarantine and exclusion pay requirements.
  5. The basic prevention requirements for employer-provided housing and transportation remain in place.

Note that certain local jurisdictions in California have more stringent requirements.  For example, the most recent Order of the Health Officer of the County of Los Angeles (effective August 23, 2021) requires the masking of all individuals at indoor public settings and businesses, regardless of vaccination status.  Clearly visible and easy-to-read signage must be posted at all entry points for indoor and outdoor settings to communicate this mandatory masking requirement for all patrons, customers, and guests.  The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has the authority to enforce such mask mandate and the other provisions of its Order, but the LA County Sheriff’s Department has stated that it will not expend its resources to “police” the mask requirement.  With such limited enforcement personnel monitoring compliance, it will be up to businesses and individuals to self-comply.

Registration with CalSavers Retirement Savings Program:

California employers who do not offer an employer-sponsored retirement plan must register for CalSavers, which is a California government administered retirement program that helps workers contribute to an IRA that belongs to them.  Employees enrolled in the plan can choose their own contribution rate and select investment funds from a simplified investment menu or use the default target date fund.

Businesses employing 5-50 employees must register for CalSavers by June 30, 2022 to help facilitate their employees’ access to the program.  Registration is free and early registration is encouraged.  Employers with more than 100 employees had to enroll by September 30, 2020, and employers with 51-100 employees had to enroll by June 30, 2021.  Employers that miss the registration deadline will owe a fine of $250 per eligible employee if non-compliance extends 90 days, which increases to an additional $500 per eligible employee if non-compliance extends 180 days.

Employers already offering a retirement plan must file an exemption through the CalSavers website.  Some of the qualified private retirement programs include 401(k) plans, 408(k) SEP plans, 408(p) SIMPLE IRA plans, 401(a) qualified plans (including profit-sharing plans and defined benefit plans), and 403(a) or 403(b) annuity plans.