Workplace harassment laws in California are the topic of ongoing discussion these days. The #MeToo movement and what can seem like almost daily reports of egregious behaviors by employees—at all levels and in all industries—has kept this topic front and center. Both employers and legislators are taking steps to tighten up rules, regulations, and reactions to workplace harassment in California.
Former Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1300 (SB 1300) the new workplace harassment law in California, creating a number of changes in how claims of sexual harassment are litigated. SB 1300 relates to how claims under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) are handled.
California harassment laws tend to be on the bleeding edge of legislation across a wide array of workplace issues; its regulations are generally more stringent than other states. However, it’s likely that other states will follow suit at some point and therefore worthwhile to pay attention to what they’re doing.
Key implications of this new legislation on harassment at work in California:
- Specifies that employers may be responsible for acts of non-employees. That’s a significant new requirement that employers should take note of. Specifically, employers need to consider where these external risks may come from and how to educate and raise awareness among non-employees on their stance on non-harassment and potential implications of non-compliance. What risk do your customers, vendors, and others present for your workforce?
- Prohibits employers from requiring employees to sign a release of claims as a condition of employment.
- No longer requires employees to prove a decline in productivity as evidence of the impact of harassment. Instead, those impacted need only meet a “reasonable person” requirement to support that the behavior made it more difficult for them to do their jobs.
- Establishes that it only takes a single incident of harassment to support the existence of a hostile work environment.
- Requires training and education on sexual harassment and authorizes, but doesn’t require bystander intervention training. Still, as we’ve recommended previously, employees can serve in a very important role as bystanders—but they need to be both educated and armed with resources to help them serve in that role.
An important word of caution to employers: in their blog post, law firm Liebert Cassidy Whitmore says: “SB 1300’s changes to FEHA will make it much easier for employees to file, litigate, and prevail on harassment and discrimination claims against California employers.” That’s a pretty important reason for employers in California—and across the country—to stand up and take note.
California laws regulating workplace harassment
While employers have been conducting harassment prevention training for years, it’s widely recognized that most of these training efforts have been ineffective at stemming the tide of harassment for a variety of reasons. Worse, there’s evidence that much of the sexual harassment training being offered by employers actually does more harm than good. Today’s employers need to consider new ways of preventing and responding to harassment in support of a workplace climate and culture that is inclusive, supportive, and non-threatening.