California recently became the first state in the US to enact a law requiring companies based there to include at least some women on their boards of directors. The legislation, signed by Governor Jerry Brown on the last day of September, mandates that all publicly traded companies headquartered California (not just those chartered there) have at least one woman on their boards by the end of 2019. For companies with at least five directors, at least two or three of those seats must be filled by women by 2021, depending on the size of the board. Companies that do not comply will be subject to fines by the state.
California’s mandate has ignited a firestorm of controversy, with business groups like the California Chamber of Commerce saying it violates constitutional principles and effectively requires companies to discriminate against men, while even some advocates of diversity in corporate leadership question whether it will have the kind of impact it is intended to have. The state will likely be sued over the law and may lose, which Brown acknowledged in his letter to the state Senate announcing his signature of the bill. “I don’t minimize the potential flaws that may indeed prove fatal to its ultimate implementation,” he wrote. The constitutional issues at hand concern not only the issue of reverse gender discrimination but also a question of jurisdiction, as the Supreme Court has ruled in the past that a corporation’s internal affairs are governed by the statutes of the state in which it is chartered, not where its headquarters is located.
Nonetheless, even if the law is ultimately defeated in court, it is intended partly as a marker of determination on the part of the California state government to ratchet up pressure on companies there to make more progress on diversity and inclusion, particularly in leadership roles where women and minorities remain heavily underrepresented. Simply bringing visibility to the issue counts as a win for some advocates of gender equality, Vox‘s Emily Stewart reported:
“If nothing else, what this law is doing is increasing the visibility and awareness on the issue itself and the importance, and that is a win in and of itself,” said Serena Fong, the vice president of strategic engagement at Catalyst, a nonprofit focused on promoting women in business.
Airlines For America, a coalition of major airlines including American, United, Southwest, Alaska, and JetBlue, has filed a lawsuit in federal court against Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, seeking to either overturn or exempt their industry from the Bay State’s paid sick leave law. The airlines say the law violates the US Constitution by seeing to regulate interstate commerce, a right granted only to the federal government, and has hurt their business specifically by leading to more employee absences, the Boston Globe’s Katie Johnston reports:
Airlines already provide generous paid sick leave, according to the complaint, and closely monitor attendance to maintain safety and appropriate staffing levels and to keep flights running on time. But the Massachusetts law prohibits employers from disciplining workers for sick-leave absences and requires at least a three-day absence before medical documentation is required, which the industry group said hurts airlines’ ability to investigate abuse of sick leave.
The Massachusetts law, which went into effect in 2015, requires that companies with 11 or more employees provide an hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours worked, culminating in up to 40 hours of paid sick time a year. But flight and ground crews often accrue sick leave in ways that can’t be easily converted into hours worked, according to the trade group.
A bill recently passed by both houses of the California state legislature and now awaiting the signature of Governor Jerry Brown would, with certain limited exceptions, prohibit California employers from voluntarily allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents onsite to conduct immigration inspections or to access employee records without a warrant or court order. Supporters of the bill describe it as a means of protecting California’s immigrant workers from abuse by federal authorities and of resisting President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, which have resulted in a spike in ICE raids and allegations of rights violations. SHRM’s Lisa Nagele-Piazza has the details on the bill:
Among other things, A.B. 450 would require employers to:
- Obtain warrants and subpoenas from federal immigration agents before granting them access to nonpublic areas of the worksite or permitting them to inspect certain employee records.
- Notify workers and their labor unions about an ICE enforcement activity within 72 hours of receiving notice of the inspection.
- Provide each current affected employee and the employee’s authorized representative with the results of an inspection within 72 hours of receiving such information from ICE.
- Pay penalties of between $2,000 and $10,000 for violations.
Currently, employers may voluntarily comply with federal agents’ requests to access the worksite during an immigration-related investigation.
If Brown signs the bill, organizations in the state will have to train their employees not to voluntarily consent to ICE actions, among other compliance challenges.