Stokes Wagner Law Firm
Stokes Wagner

After months of stress due to ambiguities in California’s “Hidden Fees Statute,” colloquially known as the “Junk Fee Ban,” it seems the collective outcry from the hospitality industry has finally been heard. Yesterday, Senator Bill Dodd introduced an emergency amendment to the law that would allow for mandatory charges on food and beverage items sold by a restaurant, bar, or pursuant to a banquet or catering contract. The proposed amendment would add the following language to the Hidden Fees Statute:

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Wednesday saw the release of CA Attorney General Bob Bonta’s long-awaited FAQs on the California “junk fee” ban, now rebranded as the “Honest Pricing Law” or “Hidden Fees Statute.” The FAQs largely reiterate the very straightforward requirements of the new law, while confirming its most strict application under certain circumstances that, until now, many in the hospitality industry had trouble believing. In light of the climate of wishful thinking surrounding this new law, it is necessary to plainly state that service charges added at the end of a transaction will be illegal beginning on July 1, 2024, and there are scarce “ifs,” “ands,” or “buts” about it. To be clear, this ban covers nearly every form of fee or charge that is added after the initiation of a transaction, including, but not limited to, health mandate fees, employee wellness fees, employee living wage fees, spa service charges, resort fees, large-party auto gratuities, and surcharges.

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On November 5, 2024, California voters will have the opportunity to repeal and replace the California Private Attorney General Act (“PAGA”). The bill would double down on penalties for willful labor-law violators but entrust enforcement exclusively to a state agency. This would require all monetary penalties be awarded to employees, while barring attorneys from recovering any fees, unless specified by the labor code. The law would also supply resources to employers to ensure compliance.

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Effective March 20, employees in New York City can bring private actions against their employers for violations of the city’s Earned Safe and Sick Time Act, NYC Admin. Code § 20-911 et seq. The ordinance, which like many others around the country, requires employers to provide paid or unpaid safe and sick leave to their employees (depending on company size), had previously been enforceable only by complaint to the City’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. The remedies that an employee can seek in a private suit are largely the same as those that could have been pursued by the Department, and include treble damages for unlawful withholding of wages, penalties of $500 for each instance of unlawfully requiring an employee to find a replacement worker or work extra hours to make up leave time, and similar amounts – but private plaintiffs can also seek attorneys’ fees and costs.

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On September 14, 2023, New York’s Governor, Kathy Hochul, signed Assembly Bill 836 (“A836”) into law which prohibits employers from requesting or requiring access to personal accounts such as texts, emails, and mobile applications like WhatsApp from electronic devices. A836, which went into effect on March 12, 2024, also prohibits employers from discharging, disciplining, or failing to hire individuals who refuse to provide access to personal accounts and is subject to only a few exceptions.

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California’s electronic portal for mandatory pay data reporting opened on February 1st, giving employers three months to complete reporting. Employers with at least 100 employees should start, if they have not already, preparing a plan for submitting pay data to the state Civil Rights Department (“CRD”). Pay data reports for calendar year 2023 are due by May 8, 2024.

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Although the COVID-19 pandemic might feel like a thing of the past, California’s Right to Recall continues in place. In October 2023, Governor Newsom signed bill SB 723, which amended California’s Right to Recall law and extended its effect through the end of 2025.

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California is not spreading the love to employers this Valentine’s Day. Employers’ deadline to give their California employees a notice that any non-compete agreements are void was February 14, 2024. Employers who fail to give the notice could face $2,500 per violation plus sanctions.

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The California Supreme Court recently issued a long-awaited opinion resolving a split in the Court of Appeal over whether trial courts may dismiss unmanageable PAGA actions. In Estrada v. Royalty Carpet Mills, Inc., filed January 18, 2024, the California Supreme Court considered whether trial courts possess inherent authority to strike/dismiss Labor Code section 2698 Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”) claims on manageability grounds. California appellate courts have reached conflicting results on the issue (see Estrada v. Royalty Carpet Mills, Inc. (2022) 76 Cal.App.5th 685, 697 (finding no inherent authority) Wesson v. Staples the Office Superstore, LLC (2021) 68 Cal.App.5th 746, 766–767 (recognizing such authority) ; Woodworth v. Loma Linda University Medical Center (2023) 93 Cal.App.5th 1038, 1047, review granted Nov. 1, 2023, S281717 (Woodworth) (agreeing with Estrada that trial courts lack authority to dismiss PAGA claim for lack of manageability) ). In Hamilton v. Wal- Mart Stores, Inc. (9th Cir. 2022) 39 F.4th 575, 587, the Ninth Circuit resolved a similar split among federal district courts applying California law by rejecting the imposition of a manageability requirement.

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The United States Department of Labor (“DOL”) recently released a final rule that addresses the classification of workers as independent contractors under federal labor law. The rule goes into effect on March 11, 2024.

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