CALIFORNIA TAKES A STEP TO END WORKPLACE BULLYING

The scope of California’s required supervisory sexual harassment training just got bigger: the training must now include the prevention of workplace bullying.

The story began in 2004 when Assembly Bill 1825 was signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger. This law requires that every California employer with 50 or more employees provide supervisors with sexual harassment prevention training within six months of their becoming a supervisor, with subsequent re-training required once every two years. Despite initial concerns and some resistance from employers, government statistics appear to show that the mandatory training has had its intended effect – a decline in sexual harassment claims. For example, according to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the number of sexual harassment cases filed in California for 2013 was 4,542, which is 1,627 less than the number filed in 2012. See California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Annual Reports and Statistics, 2013 Cases Filed by Bases – Employment & 2012 Cases Filed by Bases – Employment.

The expansion to include anti-bullying training originated with San Diego’s Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who introduced Assembly Bill 2053 (“AB 2053”). This new law, which was signed by Governor Brown in August 2014 and which goes into effect in January 2015, adds abusive conduct and bullying prevention to the mandatory sexual harassment training already in effect.

As part of the new law, covered employers (i.e., those with 50 or more employees) will be required to provide supervisors with basic information and practical guidance on how to recognize, prevent, and remedy abusive conduct in the workplace. The definition of “abusive conduct,” or workplace bullying, is still evolving, although most of us have an idea of what it is: the singling out of an individual by another individual or a group for abuse, teasing, hazing, and the like. The new law includes mandatory training for supervisors on how to deal with situations involving repeated verbal abuse, derogatory remarks, insults, even if the remarks are not based on a currently protected characteristic (such as race, sex or age). The new law also requires training for supervisors on how to deal with physical conduct that a person would find threatening, intimidating, and/or humiliating in the performance of job duties.

It is important to note that the new law does not make workplace bullying illegal. However, it is only a matter of time before workplace bullying is deemed unlawful in California. The United States actually lags behind other countries in this area: England, Canada, and some European countries already have laws banning bullying in the workplace. Most importantly, it makes good business sense to prevent bullying conduct in the workplace. If left unaddressed, workplace bullying can lead to a decrease in overall employee morale, which can result in loss of business productivity, revenue and profit.

An employer’s best defense to potential liability is to review and update internal policies, procedures and handbooks on a regular basis, so as to bring all business practices into compliance with the ever-changing labyrinth of California’s employment and labor laws. As a leading management-side employment law firm, Brown Law Group understands the fundamental importance of advising our clients in taking a preventative, proactive approach against liability exposure. Brown Law Group’s newly-revamped, sexual harassment prevention training now includes the additional bullying prevention component.

Brown Law Group’s partners and associates are proud, active members of the Employment Law Committee of the Defense Research Institute, and the California Minority Counsel Program.  For additional information regarding this article, or for any inquiries regarding your company’s compliance with California’s new employment and labor laws, please contact us at (619) 330-1700, or alternatively, by visiting our website at www.brownlawgroup.com.

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