HR Management & Compliance

New California laws affecting employers take effect January 1

by Jim Brown

California employers will have several new laws to deal with as of January 1, 2013. Of particular interest are measures affecting social media passwords, religious dress and grooming standards, and commission agreements.

Social media passwords

Assembly Bill 1844 prohibits employers from requiring employees or applicants to disclose usernames or passwords for the purpose of accessing personal social media accounts. The new law also prohibits employers from requiring employees or applicants to access personal social media accounts in the presence of management.

The prohibitions don’t apply when a request for access to a social media account is made as part of an investigation of alleged misconduct or a violation of law by a current employee, but the request must be based on a reasonable belief that access to the account will uncover relevant information. The restrictions don’t apply to employer-issued electronic devices.

Religious dress and grooming

Assembly Bill 1964 clarifies that religious dress and grooming standards are protected under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Also, the new law specifies that segregating an employee from customers, the public, or coworkers based on religious dress or grooming standards (e.g., head coverings, facial hair, or jewelry) is not a reasonable accommodation.

Although the law makes an exception for situations in which an accommodation would create an “undue hardship,” as a practical matter, it means that employers must be careful when establishing and enforcing dress codes. In addition, employers should ensure that employees who wear religious clothing or hairstyles aren’t being systematically isolated from customers or public view.

Commission agreements

Assembly Bill 1396 requires that when the payment of wages to an employee involves commissions, there must be a written contract that sets out the method by which the commissions will be computed and paid. Employers must provide the employee a signed copy of the contract and obtain a signed acknowledgment from the employee.

If the contract expires but the employee continues to work under its terms, the terms will be presumed to remain in effect until the parties enter into a new contract or the employment relationship is terminated.

Jim Brown chairs the employment and labor law group at Sedgwick LLP in San Francisco. In the October 8 issue of California Employment Law Letter, he provided a comprehensive update about the state’s new employment laws for 2013. He can be reached at