The Ultimate Hiring Guide for California Employers

February 20th 2024

California has one of the most competitive job markets in the US. And while this may initially seem like a good thing for employers, it presents unique challenges and considerations when it comes to hiring. With such a huge pool of active job seekers, choosing the right fit for your team isn’t exactly the easiest task. HR people will know. There’s also the added difficulty of having to navigate through California’s unique set of hiring laws.

To effectively hire top talent for your company, you will need the right hiring strategies and knowledge of the legal landscape. And that’s exactly what you’ll find in this guide. From crafting compelling job descriptions to conducting effective interviews and staying on top of legal nuances, this guide will empower you to make informed decisions and build a successful team in The Golden State.

This Article Covers

Why is Hiring the Right Person so Important?
How Do You Know If It’s Time to Hire?
California Hiring Laws
Step-by-Step California Guide to Effectively Hire New Employees
Are Unpaid Internships Legal in California?
Should You Notify Job Candidates Who Weren’t Selected?
Final Thoughts

A women smiling widely while working in the office.

Why is Hiring the Right Person so Important?

According to CareerBuilder, 74% of small business owners are affected by a “bad hire.” These hires usually fall short of meeting the job requirements or meshing with the company culture, resulting in subpar performance, tension in the workplace, and a shorter stay in the company. No employer wants that.

On the flip side, a good hire comes with a host of benefits for the entire company. Some of the main ones include:

  • Enhanced Performance and Productivity: A well-suited candidate is likelier to excel in their role, contributing significantly to the company’s productivity and overall performance. Their skills, expertise, and alignment with the job requirements ensure that tasks are completed efficiently and to a high standard.
  • Positive Impact on Company Culture: The right hire not only possesses the necessary skills but also aligns with the company’s values and culture. This positive cultural fit fosters a harmonious work environment, promoting collaboration, teamwork, and employee satisfaction.
  • Long-Term Retention: A well-matched candidate is more likely to stay with the company for an extended period. Reduced turnover means the company saves resources on recruitment, training, and onboarding and benefits from the stability and expertise of experienced employees.

These benefits can be further amplified with the right onboarding strategies. If you want to know more about onboarding employees, check out the ultimate guide for onboarding employees in California.

How Do You Know If It’s Time to Hire?

On average, it costs about $4,000 to hire a new employee. Given this significant cost, hiring definitely isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly. You want to make sure that you are strategic and intentional in the hiring process, ensuring that the added cost of a new team member translates into tangible and lasting benefits for your company.

Having said that, how do you know if it’s time to hire? Well, here are some of the main signs that can help you decide:

  • Your current employees are overworked: One key indicator that it’s time to hire is when your current team is stretched thin and the workload has become overwhelming. If your employees are consistently working overtime, struggling to meet deadlines, or if the quality of work is at risk due to the volume of tasks, it might be a clear signal that additional hands are needed.
  • You have plans to expand: If you’re planning to expand your business, consider hiring more staff. Growth often means taking on more clients and larger workloads, which may exceed your current team’s capacity. Bringing in new members ensures fairness for both workers and the organization, leading to greater success in all areas.
  • You’re turning down new business: If you find yourself turning down new business opportunities due to a lack of manpower, it’s a clear sign to consider hiring. Even with upfront costs for recruiting and onboarding, hiring new employees to handle increased demand can be a strategic move. Be open to expanding your team when faced with promising opportunities.

California Hiring Laws

California boasts a robust set of laws that affect both the recruitment and hiring process. These laws are designed to ensure fair and equitable employment practices. Employers in the state need to be well-versed in these regulations to navigate the hiring process successfully.

California Pay Transparency Act (SB-1162)

No more secrets when it comes to salary during the hiring process.

Pay transparency laws have been gaining traction across several states, California being one of them. As of January 1, 2023, the California Pay Transparency Act (SB-1162) has required employers with 15 or more employees, including at least one in California, to specify a compensation range on all job postings. This requirement applies whether the postings are shared internally, externally, or on third-party platforms. The law also obliges employers with one or more employees to disclose a position’s pay scale to current employees upon request. Violating these laws could result in penalties of up to $10,000 for California employers.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) 

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act makes it against the law for employers to treat job applicants or employees unfairly just because they are 40 years old or older. This means a company can’t let go of older workers and hire younger or less expensive ones to do the same job.

California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)

California has robust protections against workplace discrimination and harassment through the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

FEHA strictly forbids employers from making non-job-related inquiries, either verbally or through application forms, that express any form of discrimination or limitation related to the mentioned factors. It is also against the law for employers with five or more employees to inquire about an applicant’s criminal history until the later stages of the job application process. This legal framework ensures a fair and inclusive work environment in California, promoting equal opportunities for all employees.

California Minimum Wage

Staying updated on the California minimum wage helps you tailor your hiring practices to comply with state regulations. It also gives you a good idea of the minimum salary range you can indicate on your job post.

California’s current minimum wage is $15.50 per hour for all employers, which is double the federal rate. Starting January 1, 2024, California’s minimum wage will rise to $16 per hour for all employers. Keep in mind that some cities and counties may have a local minimum wage exceeding the state rate.

Download U.S. Minimum Wage 2024 Poster now.

AB 2188 

California is implementing two new laws concerning cannabis use and drug test results. The first, AB 2188, signed by Governor Newsom in 2022 and effective from January 1, 2024, aims to prevent employers from discriminating against individuals in hiring, termination, or any employment condition based on cannabis use or certain drug test results.

This law specifically protects individuals for off-duty cannabis use outside the workplace or if drug screenings reveal nonpsychoactive cannabis metabolites in their hair, blood, urine, or other bodily fluids, as required by the employer.

California Privacy Laws (e.g., CCPA)

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) governs the handling of applicant data, including in online job applications, ensuring privacy compliance. Employers in California must provide a privacy notice to employees and job applicants when collecting personal information, whether during hiring or afterward.

A one-on-one job interview for a job position. Photo by MART PRODUCTION

Step-by-Step California Guide to Effectively Hire New Employees

1. Identify Your Hiring Needs

Begin by assessing your current team’s strengths and weaknesses. Identify the skills and expertise gaps that may be hindering overall productivity. Determine whether the new hire is needed to enhance existing capabilities, bring in specialized skills, or contribute to specific projects.

You also want to anticipate the future needs of your team and company. If you’re hiring for expansion or foresee business strategy changes, factor these into the hiring plan. This proactive approach ensures that the new hire aligns with long-term goals and contributes to the company’s success over time.

Clearly outline the responsibilities, tasks, and objectives associated with the vacant position. Specify the qualifications, experience, and skills required for success in the role. This detailed job profile will come in handy for the next step in our hiring process – creating accurate job descriptions.

2. Create Accurate Job Descriptions

Now that you have a good idea of your hiring needs and what kind of applicant you’re looking to add to your team, it’s time to translate it into writing what’s otherwise known as your job description.

Job descriptions are crucial documents that outline the key details of a specific role within your company. They serve as a foundation for your job ad and help candidates understand the expectations and requirements for the position.

According to the California Department of Human Resources, job descriptions should typically contain the following elements:

  • A general statement outlining the main concept and specific duties of the position.
  • Classification title, position number, geographic location, division, and work unit details, including the name and title of the supervisor, along with the effective date of duties.
  • For supervisor positions, a list of the classifications is supervised.
  • A brief overview of the unit’s nature within the department or program.
  • A description of the position’s supervisory reporting relationship is available in the class specification.
  • For “deep class” classifications, a breakdown of each range of supervision.
  • A list of essential and marginal functions/duties, categorized for clarity.
  • Duties specified by the percentage of time allocated to each task or similar tasks.
  • Signatures and dates from both the employee and supervisor. This includes a disclaimer stating that the employee and supervisor acknowledge having discussed the position’s expectations by signing the duty statement.

It’s also important to note that the California Pay Transparency Act requires you to add the salary range to any job ad you post.

3. Utilize Multiple Recruitment Channels

In California’s competitive job market, tapping into multiple sources increases your chances of finding the right talent. Here’s how to effectively use multiple recruitment channels:

  • Online Job Boards: Post your job openings on popular online job boards like Indeed, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn. These platforms have a broad reach and are frequently visited by job seekers in California. The state also has its own online job board known as CalJOBS. This is California’s online tool that assists both job seekers and employers in accessing the state’s workforce services. With CalJOBS, you can easily search for jobs, create resumes, and discover qualified candidates.
  • Company Website: Make sure your company’s careers page is up-to-date and user-friendly. Many candidates research companies directly, and a well-maintained careers page can be a valuable recruitment tool.
  • Social Media Platforms: Leverage the power of social media, including LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, to promote your job openings. Share engaging content about your company culture, workplace initiatives, and the benefits of working for your organization.
  • Professional Networking: Attend industry events, conferences, and networking gatherings. Establishing a presence in professional circles can help you connect with potential candidates and tap into passive job seekers.
  • Employee Referral Programs: Encourage your current employees to refer qualified candidates. Implementing an employee referral program can be a cost-effective way to reach candidates who may not be actively searching for jobs.
  • Local Job Fairs and Events: Participate in local job fairs or industry-specific events. These gatherings provide opportunities to meet potential candidates face-to-face and showcase your company to a local audience.

4. Select and Screen Resumes and Cover Letters

As applications pour in, carefully review each resume to assess if the candidates meet the key qualifications outlined in your job description. Pay attention to any gaps in employment or inconsistencies. Look for relevant experience, skills, and education that align with the requirements of the role.

Try not to get too caught up with how many years of experience the applicant has. An experienced candidate doesn’t always translate to a successful hire in a new role. This was confirmed in a study by Chad H. Van Iddekinge and colleagues from Florida State University.

Once you’ve shortlisted potential candidates based on their resumes, initiate the screening process. This may involve a preliminary phone or video interview to assess their communication skills, enthusiasm, and initial fit for the role. During this stage, you want to gauge if the candidates not only possess the necessary qualifications but also align with your company culture. Ask questions that gauge their problem-solving approach, teamwork, and adaptability to get a sense of how well they would integrate into your workplace.

Keep in mind that California has specific employment laws, so ensure your screening process adheres to fair hiring practices and remains compliant

5. Implement a Structured Interview Process

Time to meet your applicants face-to-face, or if you’re interviewing remote employees, screen-to-screen. Unlike during the screening process, you’ll get the chance to delve deeper into their qualifications and assess their interpersonal skills through a structured interview process.

You can begin by deciding whether or not you want a panel interview or one-on-one sessions, depending on your company’s preferences and the role’s requirements. Develop a set of standardized questions that align with the job specifications. These questions should cover technical aspects as well as soft skills relevant to the position.

Ensure that all interviewers follow the same format to maintain consistency and fairness. This approach helps minimize biases and allows for a comprehensive evaluation of each candidate. You should also consider incorporating behavioral questions to gain insights into how candidates handled situations in their previous roles. Just be mindful that there are questions you aren’t allowed to ask during interviews, some of them being:

  • Do you drink, smoke, or take drugs?
  • What is your national origin?
  • Do you have children?
  • Where do you go to church?
  • How long have you lived in the United States?
  • Have you ever been arrested?
  • Do you have a disability?
  • How old are you?
  • What is your sexual orientation?

These may seem like common or harmless interview questions, but they can give you subconscious hiring biases. State laws like the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) strictly prohibit discrimination based on various factors, including age, disability, national origin, and more, during the hiring process.

6. Check References

Now that you’ve conducted interviews and are closer to making a hiring decision, it’s time to delve into the background of your potential hires by checking their references. Reference checks are a crucial step in the hiring process, providing insights into a candidate’s past performance, work ethic, and interpersonal skills.

Start by requesting references from the candidate. It’s common to ask for professional references from previous supervisors, colleagues, or mentors. Ensure that the references are relevant to the candidate’s recent work experiences and align with the requirements of the position.

When contacting references, ask specific questions about the candidate’s strengths, areas for improvement, and overall performance. Inquire about their reliability, teamwork, and ability to meet deadlines. It’s essential to gain a comprehensive understanding of how the candidate has contributed to previous work environments.

Keep in mind that reference checks should be conducted with a fair and consistent approach for all candidates to avoid any potential bias.

7. Make the Job Offer

Once you’ve identified the perfect candidate for your team, it’s time to extend a formal job offer. The job offer is a crucial step in the hiring process and involves presenting the details of employment, including salary, benefits, start date, and any other relevant information. Be transparent about the terms to avoid any misunderstandings and address any questions or concerns the candidate may have.

Other elements you should include in your job offer include:

  • At-will Designation: Clearly state in the offer letter that the employment is at-will, allowing termination by either party with or without notice. This aligns with California’s presumption of at-will employment under Labor Code section 2922. For more information on the firing process, check out our detailed California guide for firing employees.
  • Description of the Job: Provide a detailed description of the duties of the position for which the applicant is being hired. This ensures clarity and sets expectations for the new employee.
  • Integration Clause: Insert an integration clause emphasizing that the terms outlined in the offer letter supersede any other offers or promises. This clause prevents potential disputes regarding additional commitments made during the hiring process.
  • Commission Terms (if applicable): If the employee is eligible for commissions, clearly outline the commission terms in the offer letter. Ensure compliance with the requirement, effective since January 1, 2013, that commission agreements must be in writing and signed by both the employer and employee.
  • Confidentiality Provisions: Specify whether the company requires the employee to enter into a confidentiality agreement. If applicable, attach the confidentiality agreement to the offer letter and have the applicant sign both documents simultaneously.

Once both parties agree on the terms and everything is clear, you can officially present the job offer letter. This formal document outlines the specifics of the position and serves as a confirmation of the candidate’s acceptance.

8. Streamline the Hiring Process with Time Tracking Software

Navigating the hiring process in California can be quite a journey, but with strategic steps, it becomes more manageable. One crucial tool to streamline the process is time tracking software. This software isn’t just about managing schedules; it’s a game-changer in hiring. First off, it allows you to keep a precise record of how much time is spent on each task. This insight helps you identify bottlenecks and streamline your recruitment workflow.

Another advantage of time tracking software is its ability to enhance collaboration among hiring team members. With a centralized platform, everyone involved can access real-time updates so that everyone can be on the same page. This collaborative approach reduces communication gaps and speeds up decision-making.

Are Unpaid Internships Legal in California?

In line with California hiring laws, an unpaid internship is considered valid when the intern’s benefit must be the main focus, not the employer’s gain. To assess this, several factors are considered:

  • Both the intern and the employer should have a clear understanding that no payment is expected. If there’s any promise or implication of compensation, it could indicate an employer-employee relationship.
  • The internship should provide educational training similar to that of an academic environment, including practical hands-on experiences.
  • The intern’s program should be linked to their formal education through integrated coursework or academic credit.
  • The internship should accommodate the intern’s academic schedule.
  • Its duration should be limited to a period that offers the intern valuable learning.
  • The intern’s tasks should complement the work of paid employees, providing significant educational benefits.
  • Both the intern and the employer should acknowledge that the internship doesn’t guarantee a paid job afterward.

Should You Notify Job Candidates Who Weren’t Selected?

When there are candidates who weren’t selected in the recruitment process, it’s best to follow a thoughtful procedure in communicating with them.

  • Prompt Communication: Notify the candidate promptly once a decision is made. This quick turnaround prevents unnecessary waiting and keeps the process respectful of their time and interest.
  • Constructive Input: Providing gentle and constructive feedback is akin to offering a roadmap for improvement. Explaining why they weren’t selected can guide them in refining their approach for future endeavors. It’s a positive step toward their growth.
  • Grateful Acknowledgment: A heartfelt thanks goes a long way. Expressing gratitude for their application and interest in the role acknowledges their effort and maintains a positive relationship, even if they weren’t chosen this time.
  • Respectful Interaction: Keeping all forms of communication respectful is essential. Whether it’s through emails, phone calls, or face-to-face conversations, maintaining a courteous tone reflects professionalism and consideration.
  • Future Prospects: Suggesting other potential roles or positions that might align better with their skills and aspirations shows genuine interest in their career journey beyond the current opportunity. It opens doors for potential future collaboration.
  • Clear Closure: Ending the communication on a clear note is crucial. It ensures that both parties are on the same page about the decision and concludes the hiring process for that specific position, preventing any lingering uncertainty.

Final Thoughts

The hiring process can be extensive and tiring, needing careful thought and preparation. It’s more than just posting a job and interviewing people; it needs employers to plan and prepare well. Companies that spend time on a detailed hiring process not only find the right person for the job but also create a path for employees to be in a healthy working environment in the long run. In addition, employers must ensure that they are in compliance with California hiring laws and practices.

It’s a crucial way to make the workplace a good environment. It affects how employees feel when they start and as they work over time. When companies hire people thoughtfully, those employees feel appreciated, motivated, and dedicated to their work – so it’s worth the investment.

Important Cautionary Note

When making this guide, we have tried to make it accurate, but we do not give any guarantee that the information provided is correct or up-to-date. We therefore strongly advise you to seek advice from qualified professionals before acting on any information provided in this guide. We do not accept any liability for any damages or risks incurred for the use of this guide.