California labor law addresses the challenging issues of employee harassment, but keeping up with the legislation is essential.
While you as an owner, or manager, may be innocent of any types of harassment, what If one of your employees makes an inappropriate remark or gesture towards a fellow employee?
What do you do?
If you are among the over 6,000 California employers who have had to field sexual harassment complaints, you will have your work cut out for you.
And it can be devastatingly expensive.
For example, on September 2, 2010 a janitorial services company in California was ordered to pay $5.8 million to settle a sexual harassment suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC alleged that the company failed to respond to employee's repeated complaints about harassment and this inaction led to "a dangerous and hostile work environment."
California Labor Laws and Sexual Harassment
While many employers and employees in California understand what constitutes harassment, it is prudent to be very clear as to the definition held by both the EEOC and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Sexual harassment, for example, is defined as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Both men and women can engage in sexual harassment conduct, and it can occur between persons of the same gender."
Additionally, this type of harassment comes under two main categories:
- Quid Pro Quo
- Hostile Environment
"Quid Pro Quo" is Latin for "this for that". This is typically seen as sexual favors being asked in exchange for promotion, benefits, or even as a condition for keeping one's job.
A "Hostile Environment" can be more subtle and, consequently, hard to identify. This occurs when suggestive remarks or sexual jokes and derogatory comments are frequently being made, or physical interference with movement such as blocking or following closely is carried out.
The Extent of Liability in a Harassment Claim
As an employer in California your liability extends to acts committed by both supervisors and front-line employees. Because these actions can take place without your direct knowledge, it is critical that you have proper procedures in place for employees to notify management of such conduct.
In addition to this you must handle all sexual harassment complaints in an expeditious and timely manner, as well as take immediate measures to prevent or stop the behavior.
Beyond the specific category of sexual harassment, there are a number of ways harassment can present itself in the workplace. Generally, any behavior is inappropriate and that a reasonable person would find unwanted, hostile, intimidating or offensive.
California Labor Laws Require Employers to Comply With New Regulations
At the end of last year the California legislature passed a number of new labor laws. Among these was AB 2053 which went into effect on January 1, 2015. This law requires California employers with 50 or more employees to provide training on the “prevention of abusive conduct” along with the sexual harassment training already required by law.
“Abusive conduct” is defined under California Government Code section 12950.1(g)(2) as the “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.” For example, 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.”
The newly required training serves as an amendment to the existing sexual harassment law found in Government Code section 12950.1.
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.
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….”
Keep Informed to Ensure Ongoing Compliance
Accurate and timely management and compliance practices are required for every business and every payroll professional. But there are options. Accuchex, a reputable payroll management services provider, can not only relieve you of the burden of your ongoing payroll process demands, but can potentially prove to be a more cost-effective solution, as well.