State lawmakers have rewritten California's labor laws in significant ways this year, in many cases as a result of workplace changes brought on by COVID-19, and although some don't take effect until Jan. 1, others call for immediate action by employers large and small.

Of the 20 new labor laws Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law this year, half a dozen relate to the pandemic.

Some of the changes are expected to be felt strongest by small businesses that previously didn't have to deal with things like the California Family Rights Act.

Bakersfield human resources specialist Robin Paggi said Senate Bill 1383 reverses that "and employers must be knowledgeable about how to manage such leaves to avoid claims and lawsuits."

According to a summary by the California Chamber of Commerce, starting Jan. 1, SB 1383 will not only force more businesses to comply with CFRA, but it also will expand the definition of "family members covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

"Employers, big and small, should become familiar with the law’s details and be prepared to revise or implement compliant policies and practices by 2021," CalChamber wrote in a news release.

Other pandemic-related measures include SB 1159, which requires employers to report COVID-19 cases to their workers' compensation insurance carriers. The law is already in place.

Assembly Bill 1867, which has also taken effect, expands COVID-19-related paid sick leave for certain employers. Another law, AB 685, establishes various pandemic-related reporting requirements for employers; it takes effect Jan. 1.

Two other measures, AB 2537 and SB 275, deal with personal protective equipment. The former requires employers to supply and maintain a stockpile of PPEs, while the latter forces the state to keep its own inventory of PPEs.

According to CalChamber, a law unrelated to the pandemic, AB 2992, expands legal protections against discrimination and retaliation for employees who suffer crime or abuse when they take time off for legal proceedings or seek medical attention for certain crimes.

Another new law, AB 3075, makes "successor employers" liable for wages left unpaid by the preceding employer, as determined by a court of law. It also allows local government to enforce state standards regarding wage payment.

The time employees have to file complaints of discrimination or retaliation doubles to one full year under a new law known as AB 1947.

Corporate boards of directors could undergo changes as a result of AB 979. It requires publicly traded companies headquartered in California to have at least one director from "an underrepresented community" by the end of 2021, CalChamber reported.

It noted underrepresented can be defined as some who "self-identifies as Black, African American, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Native Hawaiian or Alaska Native, or who self-identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.”

To Paggi, the human resources consultant, these changes and others show how important it can be for businesses to have access to HR expertise.

"This probably sounds self-serving," she wrote in an email, "but I think these laws demonstrate why employers, especially small employers, need to have a competent HR professional on their staff or on-call."

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