Local Business Owners Weigh in Over New Laws Taking Effect in 2018

Some say many small local businesses will be forced out of business by combined weight of Federal and State regulations

Published : Wednesday, November 29, 2017 | 6:07 AM

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A number of new State and Federal laws affecting business owners and their employees will take effect in January, 2018 and Pasadena business owners and leaders are weighing in on them, unhappily, for the most part.

Topping the list are laws which require some small businesses to give up to 3 months of employees leave for “baby bonding,” make it illegal to consider a job applicant’s prior criminal convictions when they apply for a job, and could force owners to refuse to allow ICE agents to enter their business if the agents don’t show a judicial warrant to enter.

Robin Salzer, who has owned Robin’s Wood Fire BBQ in East Pasadena for nearly 40 years, sees many of the new laws as draconian. As he said Tuesday, “I think California is arguably the most business-unfriendly state in America.”

“I’m all in on retaining and protecting my employees, most of whom have been with me for a minimum of 15 to 20 years, but at what cost?,” Salzer continued. “When you add in the year with increases in minimum wage, which we’re all experiencing, which leads to higher workman’s comp, and these different avenues for of paid leave, and then taking away the basic right to ask an applicant if they’ve ever had a criminal history, why would anyone want to open up a business in California?”

According to Salzer, labor-intensive businesses, like small, independent restaurants, will be eventually forced out of business by combined weight of all the new Federal and State laws.

“You can only raise your prices by so much before your customers reject them,” said Salzer, who added ruefully, “I’m glad that I’m a year or two away from retiring, rather than just starting out, because I don’t know how anybody starting out in a customer service business in California can see a rainbow at the end of the tunnel.”

Pasadena Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Paul Little finds the inability to disqualify applicants with criminal backgrounds, for example, particularly onerous.

“There are some circumstances,” says Little, “where a person’s criminal history is necessary to be divulged. Financial institutions, and others that have access to privileged information and require bonding, may require that someone actually ask about a person’s criminal history.”

“For example,” Little continued, “if a person who was to work on something in my house was required to be bonded, and the person who was hiring them finds out they weren’t eligible until the very end of the process rather than at the beginning, that seems to be a bit onerous on the business owner.”

Little acknowledges the desire of applicants to right their past wrongs, saying, “I understand they’re trying to make it fair, and someone who’s paid their debt to society certainly deserves a fair employment life. But there are particular circumstances where those questions that are being asked upfront are necessary.”

Because someone has a criminal record doesn’t mean they’re still a criminal, Little emphasized, however.

All of the owners and business leaders interviewed for this story voiced the idea that Sacramento lawmakers may be out of touch with small business owners.

As Salzer implored, “Step into our shoes for a week and see what we do. See the unsung benefits that we give our staff. The loans that we give interest free, the bonuses, how many times have we unfortunately bailed people out of jail, had their cars repaired, or lent money to employees for their first home or for their first car.

“Our staff is like an extension of our family,” continued Salzer.

“Over the years I’ve had people come to my house, employees who haven’t had a place to go on Thanksgiving or Christmas, and when they’re by themselves,” he said. “The way things are going, he said, “we’re going to be in a position where we can’t afford to do that. I think that our legislators need to step into our shoes to see what we do.”

Michael Hawkins, owner of the Green Street Cafe, agreed wholeheartedly, saying, “I think (lawmakers) need to talk to some business people, and have a very thoughtful discussion about the consequences of their actions.”

The new regulations are complex to administer, and the consequences of not following them perfectly can be severe, business groups warn.

The New Parent Leave Act, SB 63, adopted in October, will require small businesses with at least 20 employees to provide up to 12 work weeks of unpaid, job-protected parental leave for baby bonding.

According to the California State Legislature website, the existing law prohibits an employer from refusing to allow a female employee disabled by pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition to take a leave for a reasonable time of up to 4 months before returning to work.

The bill would prohibit an employer with least 20 employees within 75 miles, from refusing to allow an qualified employee to take up to 12 weeks of parental leave to bond with a new child within one year of the child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement. The bill would also prohibit an employer from refusing to maintain and pay for group health coverage for an employee taking this leave, as well as prohibit an employer from refusing to hire, or from discharging, fining, suspending, expelling, or discriminating against, an individual for exercising the right to parental leave provided by the bill.

“Ban-the-box” legislation would make it illegal under FEHA, for an employer with five or more employees to include on any employment application any question that seeks the disclosure of an applicant’s conviction history, and then to inquire into applicant’s conviction history, until the applicant has received a conditional offer, and, when conducting a conviction history background check, to then “consider, distribute, or disseminate information related to specified prior arrests, diversions, and convictions.”

Business owners may still include the question on application forms, but may not automatically disqualify persons with criminal records.

The Immigrant Worker Protection Act would, except as otherwise required by federal law, prohibit an employer or other person acting on the employer’s behalf from providing voluntary consent to an immigration enforcement agent to enter nonpublic areas of a place of labor unless the agent provides a judicial warrant, except as specified.

The bill would also prohibit an employer from providing voluntary consent to an immigration enforcement agent to access, review, or obtain the employer’s employee records without a subpoena or court order.

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