More changes to the way California companies can conduct business are are coming in 2016. While much has been discussed about the implementation of the Fair Pay Act (which, among other things, requires women to receive equal pay as their male counterparts for ‘substantially similar work’, more on that here), that is not the only big change to California employment law. Indeed, California has considerably expanded the scope of its anti-discrimination law -The Unruh Act- and it has done so with remarkably little attention from the business owners who will be most greatly impacted.
California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act specifically prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, disability, medical condition, marital status, or sexual orientation. The law applies to all businesses (such as hotels and motels, restaurants, theaters, hospitals, barber and beauty shops, housing accommodations, and retail establishments). Last September, Governor Brown stretched the reach of Unruh when he signed SB 600 into law, which bars discrimination based on immigration status, primary language and citizenship. The new law goes into effect on January 1, 2016.
There are some limitations, however. SB 600 does not require the provision of services or documents in a language other than English, beyond that which is otherwise required by other provisions of federal, state or local law. Further, verification of immigration status and any discrimination based upon verified immigration status, where required by federal law, will not constitute a violation of the Unruh Act.
Businesses can expect to be on the receiving end of an intensified level of scrutiny relating to the perceived level of equality of all persons in regards to access to the advantages and services of business establishments. Furthermore, and as a practical matter, employers will want to update existing employment handbooks and train employees on these new protections and their duties not to discriminate against customers on the basis of any classification protected under the Unruh Act.
For more information on how these updates to the Unruh Act will affect your business, contact experienced business attorney Drew E. Pomerance today.