Work from Home Laws in California
Nick Ferraro | July 8, 2021 | Employment Law
Many workers shifted to work from home during the state of emergency declared due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This required many employers and employees to adapt as they had never accommodated remote work before.
California provides greater protection for workers than almost every other state in the country. More importantly, California’s labor laws apply to remote workers in the same way that they apply to in-person workers.
Here are some of the ways that California’s labor laws apply to work from home:
1. Wage and Hour Laws
California’s Division of Labor Standard Enforcement (DLSE) adjudicates disputes over hours and pay. If your employer owes you unpaid wages, you and your employment lawyer can file a wage claim with the DLSE, whether you work in the office or from home.
Some of the common wage and hour disputes include:
California workers found that working from home facilitated longer work hours. Without wasted time commuting to and from work, workers were more willing to work more than eight hours in a day.
Employers in California must pay daily overtime to non-exempt workers; an employee earns overtime pay any time the employee works more than eight hours in a day.
Overtime pay in California falls into two levels.
- Time-and-a-half for more than eight hours but less than twelve hours
- Double for more than twelve hours
Most employees do not know that their extra work time qualifies as overtime when working from home. But California’s overtime law does not distinguish between in-office work or remote work. This means that employers might owe unpaid overtime to many California employees who work from home.
Alternative Work Schedules
An exception to California’s overtime pay laws occurs when the employer creates an alternate work schedule. These schedules compress the workweek by extending an employee’s daily hours.
For example, a work schedule with four ten-hour shifts allows the employer to avoid overtime pay and still provide 40 hours of work.
You may want to consult an employment lawyer about your alternative work schedule and whether it entitles you to overtime pay.
Paid Time Off
Many employers force employees to exhaust paid sick leave or other paid time off when they work from home. But if an employee performs work from home, the employee is not taking time off. As a result, the employee should receive pay and should not use paid time off or paid sick leave when working from home.
Employers must establish regular paydays. For employees paid twice per month, pay earned between the first and fifteenth of the month must be paid by the 26th. Pay earned between the sixteenth and end of the month must be paid by the 10th of the next month. This regulation applies to remote workers, as well.
2. Layoff and Termination Laws
The same laws that apply to hiring and firing in-person workers also apply to remote workers. Some of these laws include:
When an employer with more than 75 employees plans to lay off more than 50 employees over 30 days, the employer must provide laid-off workers at least 60 days’ notice of the layoff.
This warning period provides workers time to look for new jobs. It also allows the state to provide support to laid-off employees.
If an employer terminates a remote worker, the employer must immediately pay any accrued wages and paid vacation time. For remote workers, “immediately” means the employer must authorize an electronic deposit or mail a check on the day of termination.
3. Non-Discrimination Laws
Under both U.S. and California laws, employers cannot treat employees differently based on race, nationality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or disability. Workplace discrimination can expose employers to penalties and lawsuits from employees.
Remote Work Opportunities
Employers must not discriminate when providing workers the opportunity to work from home.
Everyone worked from home during the state of emergency, so discrimination was less of a concern. Employers must remain mindful of how they decide which employees can continue remote work so that they do not discriminate against any protected classes.
Reasonable Accommodation of Disabled Workers
State and federal laws require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities or medical conditions. This means that employers should grant reasonable requests for accommodation from remote workers.
This might require employers to provide equipment and furniture that help disabled workers to work from home. It might also mean that disabled workers might require modified schedules to accommodate their medical conditions.
4. Tax Laws
From the standpoint of the tax laws of California and the U.S., employers must treat remote workers like every other worker. This means that employers cannot dodge tax obligations by forcing employees to become independent contractors or gig workers when they work remotely.
When the employer has control over how workers carry out their job duties, those workers remain employees. As a result, the employer must withhold taxes for those employees.
One wrinkle that can develop occurs when a California employer hires remote workers that live outside California. In these situations, the employer must comply with U.S. tax law, California tax law, and the tax law of the worker’s state of residence. This might mean that employees have money withheld for all three jurisdictions.
California Labor Laws and Remote Work Practices
Many employers have seen the benefits of remote work and will continue to have some employees work remotely. But this means that the improvised policies that were rushed into place during the pandemic could harden into permanent practices.
If your employer applies policies to remote workers in an unfair way, you should consider speaking to an employment lawyer to raise the issue.
Likewise, if you want to develop fair policies for your business that comply with California’s remote work laws, you should consult an employment law attorney.