Harassment Laws in CA are Changing—Are You Ready?

As fall approaches, California employers have just a few short months to ensure that their harassment prevention policies are in compliance with a new round of legislation going into effect in January 2020.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, which picked up momentum in late 2017, states such as New York have passed stricter regulations designed to create safer workplaces. But California has adopted what some have called the “mother of all #metoo bills, and employers there will need to take swift action to meet the more robust requirements for compliance.

Redefining harassment legislation

Most California employers are likely already familiar with the regulations around sexual harassment prevention training that took effect last year. But the legislation is expanding, and California employers will soon be required to update their harassment prevention policies and reporting procedures once again to reflect the following changes:

  • Employers can no longer issue nondisclosure agreements related to claims of harassment or discrimination (SB820)
  • Employers are barred from entering into certain settlement agreements related to harassment or discrimination claims (SB1300)
  • Employers cannot require an employee to sign a release of harassment claims as a condition for employment or for eligibility for a raise or a bonus (SB1300)
  • Employers can now share more information about the status of an investigation with employees who have filed a harassment claim (AB 2770)
  • Employers acting as a reference can now share that a past employee is no longer eligible for rehire because they were found to have engaged in harassment (AV2700)
  • Employers are required to provide significantly increased sexual harassment training to all employees (SB1314)

California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing provides additional resources and information, including a Workplace Harassment Prevention Guide, for employers.

Understanding your increased liability

In addition to the changes listed above, one of the most dramatic shifts in California’s anti-harassment law comes via SB1300. This bill substantially expands the legal definition of harassment and, in turn, substantially increases the employer’s liability for failing to prevent it.

For example, a single instance of harassment can now be sufficient cause to bring a hostile work environment claim if it impacts an employees’ ability to do their job.

Of course, the best way to shrink your liability is through preventative efforts that stop harassment or discrimination before it happens. SB1343 requires California employers with five or more employees (and that includes interns, contractors, part-time workers, and temporary hires), to provide sexual harassment prevention training to maintain compliance.

This new training mandate goes into effect January 2021 and includes the following requirements:

  • By Dec. 31, 2019, employers must provide two hours of sexual harassment prevention training to all managerial employees and one hour of training for non-managerial employees
  • After those 2019 training requirements are met, training must be offered every two years
  • Employees who are promoted to managerial roles must receive the appropriate training within six months
  • Approved training formats include in-person or classroom training, e-learning modules, and webinars conducted by certified trainers
  • To maintain compliance, employers must keep documentation of training records for a minimum of two years
  • Training must include resources for victims and instructions on how to report harassment

The path to compliance

In order to help organizations meet compliance quickly, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing plans to offer two interactive online sexual harassment prevention training courses, available by late 2019.

But employers who want to plan ahead should begin researching options for third-party providers who can help meet the new requirements now. Spot can ensure that you’re providing a tool that checks the compliance box for a reporting method, offers a safe way for employees to speak up about inappropriate behavior at work, and allows HR to actively follow up on anonymous reports.

We’re also gearing up to release a series of interactive harassment training modules that will allow organizations to meet the December deadline in California. As part of a workplace harassment and discrimination prevention program, Spot can give meaningful insight into your organization while helping you build an inclusive culture where employees feel heard.