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What to Expect From New Fast Food Employment Laws in California

2024 will be a big year for anyone employed in the fast food industry in California. New laws are set to improve everything from wages to working conditions for the majority of restaurant workers in the state. 

The majority of these changes are the result of a bill known as AB 1228. This law repealed the 2022 Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act (FAST Recovery Act) and replaced it with new legislation that reflects negotiations between restaurant labor and employers in 2023. The new legislation applies to national fast food chains, which it defines as “limited-service restaurants consisting of more than 60 establishments nationally that share a common brand, or that are characterized by standardized options for decor, marketing, packaging, products, and services, and which are primarily engaged in providing food and beverages for immediate consumption.”

As a result, employees in the industry will receive substantial new rights and benefits beginning as early as April 1, 2024. Let’s break down the biggest benefits of the bill, how it could impact you, and what to do if your employer doesn’t respect your rights at work. 

Rising Wages at Covered Restaurants

California law AB 1228, set to take effect this year, will significantly increase wages for fast food workers at covered businesses in the state. Beginning on April 1, 2024, the minimum wage for California’s approximately 500,000 fast-food workers will be raised to $20 per hour. This is a notable increase from the average hourly wage of $16.21 for fast-food workers in 2022, significantly improving the earnings and potential quality of life for workers in the restaurant industry across California.

Furthermore, the Fast Food Council, established under AB 1228, will start determining annual increases in the minimum wage for covered employees from January 1, 2025, until 2029. This will be done using a specified formula, ensuring that wages may continue to rise based on calculated needs and economic conditions. This approach aims to balance the interests of workers seeking fair compensation with the operational realities of fast food businesses.

While the specific wage rates set by the Council will directly determine the impact on employees’ wages, the Act represents a legislative move towards potentially increasing wages above the statewide minimum wage for workers in this sector. The law aims to provide employees with a stronger say in setting minimum wages and working conditions, including health and safety standards.

Benefits of the Fast Food Council

The Fast Food Council is intended to represent all interests in the industry. It will consist of nine members, which must include franchise owners, restaurant employees, advocates for employees, and a neutral chairperson to break deadlocks. Overall, the Council is tasked with setting minimum standards for workers in the fast-food industry. 

These standards cover various elements of employment, including wages, working conditions related to health and safety, and security in employment. The Council will not have the power to implement policies on its own; however, it will recommend workplace standards to state agencies, which will then investigate and potentially implement these standards to improve conditions for all. 

Overall, this initiative is part of California’s broader efforts to regulate working conditions and wages for fast-food workers, reflecting the state’s commitment to improving labor conditions in this sector. The establishment of the Council marks a proactive step towards addressing wage disparities and improving the economic conditions of casual and fast dining workers, who are often among the lowest-paid workers in the economy.

How to Protect Your New Rights as a Fast Food Employee

While the full impact of AB 1228 and the Fast Food Council is yet to be seen, the increase in the minimum wage for many restaurant workers is a guarantee. Still, even the best employment laws only protect you if you know your rights and advocate for yourself. If your employer doesn’t pay you the appropriate minimum wage once April begins, you may need to take legal action to receive the wages you’re owed. Here’s what you can do to ensure your employer respects your new rights:

  • Review Wage Laws: First, it’s important to confirm that your employer is covered by AB 1228. Critically, your employer must have at least 60 locations, and it may not be considered a “bakery” under state law. 
  • Discuss With Employer: Sometimes, the issue might be due to a misunderstanding or error. If possible, discuss the matter directly with your employer or HR department. Bring documentation, such as pay stubs and records of hours worked, to clearly present your case.
  • Record Keeping: Keep detailed records of your hours worked, pay received, and any communications with your employer regarding wages. This information will be crucial if you need to file a complaint or take legal action.
  • File a Complaint: If discussing the issue with your employer doesn’t resolve the problem, you can file a wage claim or complaint with the California Labor Commissioner, which enforces laws regarding wages and hours worked and can investigate your claim.
  • Seek Legal Advice: Consider consulting with an attorney who specializes in employment law. They can provide advice specific to your situation and help you understand your rights and options. 

It’s important to act promptly, as there may be statutes of limitations on wage claims, limiting the amount of time you have to file a complaint after the wage violation occurs.

Talk to the Law Offices of Todd M. Friedman, P.C., About Your Unpaid Wages

Fast food employees play a crucial role in the economy, providing valuable services to communities across the country. Ensuring they are fairly compensated and treated with respect in the workplace is not just a legal obligation but a moral one. If your employer fails to pay you the appropriate minimum wage as of April 1, 2024, they are violating your right to fair compensation, and you may have the right to compensation. 

At the Law Offices of Todd M. Friedman, P.C., our experienced employment law attorneys are available to help you with unpaid wage claims and other workplace disputes. Schedule your consultation with our California employment law firm to learn more about how we can help you fight for fair pay under AB 1228. 

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