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California Takes Aim at the “Bully on the Block”

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California businesses that have 50 or more employees are now subject to the first workplace anti-bullying law in the state. Last month Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 2053, which amends already in place requirements on sexual harassment training for businesses in the state. Starting on January 1, 2015, employers must not only have supervisors indoctrinated on what constitutes legally prohibited sexual harassment, but that training must also include education on preventing “abusive conduct” in the workplace, even if the conduct is not based on a protected characteristic or constitutes legally prohibited discrimination or harassment.

The new law defines abusive conduct as “conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace with malice, which a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests.” The list of conduct is fairly expansive:

  • Infliction of verbal abuse;
  • 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.

The new law also states that supervisory employees must receive a minimum of two hours of this abusive conduct/anti-harassment training in an interactive format every two years. There is no published guidance yet on what should be included in the curriculum.

Our California members should be sure to update their prospective training accordingly. If you rely on third party vendors for this training, be sure that the vendor is aware of the update and makes the changes to their training materials in compliance with the new law. Importantly, you should take bullying seriously. We all know that many targets and witnesses to bullying are reluctant to report what they experienced, most often because the consequences for this kind of misconduct are vague or inconsequential. In the end, on top of being in compliance with legal requirements regarding bullying, if you take complaints seriously and follow up with suitable corrective action, it will help foster a healthy work environment for all of your employees.

Hilary Atkins

Posted In: Legal

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