Attorney General Bonta Defends San Diego 'Right to Return' Law in Fight to Protect Workers Laid-Off as a Result of the Pandemic

Thursday, August 12, 2021
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today filed an amicus brief in support of the City of San Diego’s “right to return” ordinance — also known as right to recall — as part of the broader effort to help protect workers hit hardest by the economic consequences of the pandemic. The ordinance requires certain employers to grant workers who were laid-off as a result of COVID-19 the first opportunity to get rehired for newly reopened positions. In the amicus brief, Attorney General Bonta urges the court in San Diego County Lodging Association v. San Diego to deny the association’s motion for summary judgment and uphold San Diego’s “right to return” ordinance, highlighting the state’s own significant interests in supporting a swift economic recovery and protecting the welfare of vulnerable workers.

“The hard truth is: workers who lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic are overwhelmingly people of color, immigrants, and women,” said Attorney General Bonta. “The people who have been hit first and hit the hardest by this pandemic shouldn’t have to start from scratch. They deserve a fair shot at making a living. As the People’s Attorney, I’m committed to ensuring that our economic recovery is an equitable recovery. ‘Right to return’ laws are an important component of that effort. We stand in full support of San Diego’s fight to help those who lost their jobs get back to work.”

As California works to recover from the pandemic and businesses take steps to re-open their doors, several cities and the State of California have instituted “right to return” laws, which require employers in certain hard-hit sectors, like leisure and hospitality, to rehire laid-off employees before looking elsewhere to fill open positions. Since April 2020, there has been a 24% decline in employment in the leisure and hospitality industries in California, and high unemployment rates have persisted throughout the pandemic. Workers in California’s key industries protected by “right to return” laws are overwhelmingly people of color, women, and immigrants who tend to earn relatively low wages. These vulnerable workers have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic. Black and Latina women, for example, have lost jobs at a rate three times the rate of many other Californians. Prolonged unemployment can have devastating consequences on low-wage workers and their families, including long-term wage loss and wage suppression, higher mortality rates, and worse health outcomes. 

In the amicus brief, Attorney General Bonta argues that:

  • “Right to return” laws are consistent with California's public policy favoring strong protections for workers and limitations on at-will employment;
  • California supports local laws that mitigate the economic impact of an unprecedented public health crisis on workers at the margins; and
  • California has a strong interest in mitigating the harms of prolonged unemployment as evidenced by the recent passage of Senate Bill 93, a similar statewide “right to return” law that expressly permits local governments to enact their own “right to return” measures.

A copy of the amicus brief is available here.

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