AB 2053 was signed into law by Governor Brown, and as of January 1, 2015, employers have to comply with new obligations regarding the sexual harassment training already required for some employers under California law. Here are five issues employers should understand about AB 2053.
1. What are employer’s current obligations to have supervisors attend sexual harassment prevention training before AB 2053 was passed?
In California, employers with 50 or more workers must provide at least two hours of sexual harassment prevention training to all supervisors. This training must be provided to supervisors within six months of the time they become a supervisor, and then at least once every two years. The training must cover federal and state statutory laws regarding prohibitions against sexual harassment, remedies available to victims, how to prevent and correct sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. This requirement is set forth in California Government Code section 12950.1.
2. What new obligations does AB 2053 add to California’s sexual harassment training requirement?
AB 2053 amends Government Code section 12950.1, and takes effect January 1, 2015. The new law requires employers subject to the sexual harassment training requirement must continue with their obligations under Gov. Code section 12950.1, but to “also include prevention of abusive conduct as a component of the training and education….”
The law defines “abusive conduct” as follows:
For purposes of this section, “abusive conduct” means conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests. Abusive conduct may include repeated infliction of verbal abuse, such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets, verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating, or the gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance. A single act shall not constitute abusive conduct, unless especially severe and egregious.
Therefore, going forward, employers need to provide training that complies with this new requirement. Currently, there are no guidelines specifically setting forth details about how long the training should focus on this “abusive conduct” requirement. Employers are encouraged to take reasonable steps to implement a training that complies with this new requirement (I’m updating my training materials right now). Employers providing training by the end of 2014 should seek a training class that complies with the new requirements immediately.
3. Does it create a new cause of action for “abusive conduct” in the workplace?
No. While it may not good business practices, there is no law in California that makes workplace bullying or “abusive conduct” as defined in AB 2053 illegal. The policy reason behind not making such conduct illegal is that it would be difficult to determine what conduct is simply discipline, counseling, and day-to-day management actions versus actions taken with “malice” by a manager. Making such conduct actionable under the law would, in effect, make the court system the final decision maker in resolving normal day-to-day workplace disputes, which could stress the already overwhelmed court system.
4. If employers have already conducted sexual harassment training within the last few months, do they need to re-train their supervisors on January 1, 2015?
The law is unclear on this issue. I placed a call into Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’ office, author of the bill, and was told by a spokesperson that the law would not require re-training of supervisors any sooner than when the two year deadline required them to receive their next training. However, employers should approach this issue with caution, as the law is not clear on the requirement regarding when supervisors must receive training compliant with this new requirement regarding “abusive conduct.” Also, if employers are conducting training of its supervisors between now and the end of 2014, it goes without saying that the training should cover this new requirement to avoid any issues.
5. Could this amendment eventually lead to a law making “abusive conduct” illegal?
Potentially. Even though there is no legal cause of action for “abusive conduct” as defined in the new law, this type of legislation could be amended to make this conduct illegal in the future.