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California Expands Mandatory Harassment Training to Include “Bullying” Prevention

9/22/2014 Articles

California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 2053 into law this month amending Government Code Section 12950.1 to require employers to address “abusive conduct” in their mandatory workplace sexual harassment prevention training.  For more than a decade, California has required all employers with 50 or more employees to provide at least two hours of workplace harassment prevention training and education to all supervisory employees every two years.  Until now, that training was to focus exclusively upon harassment  based upon legally protected classifications, particularly gender.  This legislation extends the training subjects to “include prevention of abusive conduct as a component of the training.”  See Cal. Gov. Code § 12950.1(b) (as amended)

Abusive conduct essentially encompasses behavior typically construed as “bullying.”  The legislation defines “abusive conduct” as “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.”  See Cal. Gov. Code § 12950.1(g)(2) (as amended).  Such conduct could 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.”  The legislation advises that a single act will generally not constitute abusive conduct unless it is “severe and egregious.”  Keep in mind that this legislation does not create a new legal cause of action for “abusive conduct” but it is designed to raise awareness of the conduct.

In light of this new requirement, employers should expand the scope of their mandatory trainings beyond conduct based on sex or other protected classes, and must now address general standards of behavior in the workplace which apply to all employees regardless of any protected class.

The amendment takes effect on January 1, 2015.  We recommend that employers incorporate the abusive conduct component in their mandatory harassment training as soon as possible to insure full compliance.

The text of AB 2053 and the amended version of Government Code Section 12950.1 can be found here.  Should you need advice modifying your training materials to address this new requirement, please contact a member of Farella Braun + Martel’s employment practice group.

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