What California Employers Need To Know About “Emergency Conditions” And Retaliation Claims
Employers in California must comply with a wide range of state and federal laws concerning employment discrimination and retaliation. Generally speaking, employers are prohibited from taking any adverse action against employees who exercise a wide range of rights under state or federal law, including reporting or participating in employment discrimination cases, union activities, or whistleblowing activities. Adverse action can include but is not limited to termination, demotion, limitation on participation in certain workplace activities, access to benefits, and more. If employers have any concerns about whether an adverse action taken against an employee could be considered retaliation, please seek advice from one of our office’s employment lawyers as soon as possible.
Regarding retaliation, employers in California should be aware that a new law will take effect in January 2023, prohibiting employers from retaliating against employees who leave work or refuse to report to their position under specific emergency conditions.
Emergency Conditions and Senate Bill 1044
California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill (SB) 1044, which will take effect on January 1, 2023. This new law says that an employer is prohibited from retaliating against — or threatening to retaliate against — an employee who refuses to report to a workplace affected by an emergency condition, or who leaves an emergency condition at a workplace, when “the employee has a reasonable belief that the workplace or worksite is unsafe.”
In addition, employers are prohibited from “preventing any employee . . . from accessing the employee’s mobile device or other communications device for seeking emergency assistance, assessing the safety of the situation, or communication with a person to confirm their safety.” Employees must “notify the employer of the emergency condition requiring the employee to leave or refuse to report to the workplace or worksite” to be protected under the new law.
What Constitutes an Emergency Condition?
What kinds of situations should employers in California anticipate qualifying as an emergency condition? This specific law will not apply to an employee’s personal emergency condition. Instead, the law defines “emergency condition” to mean one of the following:
- “Conditions of disaster or extreme peril to the safety of persons or property at the workplace or worksite caused by natural forces or a criminal act”; or
- “An order to evacuate a workplace, a worksite, a worker’s home, or the school of a worker’s child due to natural disaster or a criminal act.”
The law explicitly states that a health pandemic is not an emergency condition for purposes of this law.
Contact an Employment Law Attorney for Employers in California
If you have any questions about your obligations as an employer concerning retaliation under California law or specific questions about SB 1044 compliance, please contact an experienced employment attorney at the Law Office of Karen J. Sloat, APC, for assistance. Our firm serves employers in Riverside County, Cathedral City, Coachella, and Desert Hot Springs.