A new law that takes effect in January will require companies with 50 or more employees to provide supervisors with anti-bullying training.
The law essentially adds to the existing requirement that employers conduct anti-sexual harassment training for supervisors every two years.
The new requirement takes effect Jan. 1, 2015 thanks to Gov. Jerry Brown signing AB 2053 into law.
The new anti-bullying training can be folded into your company’s anti-sexual harassment training, under the new law.
Under present state law, companies with 50 or more employees must provide two hours of anti-sexual harassment training and education to supervisors within the first six months of them assuming their position as a supervisor. Additionally, employers must provide refresher anti-sexual harassment training every two years.
The training must include:
- Information and guidelines on the prohibition of sexual harassment in the workplace,
- Information and guidelines on prevention of sexual harassment,
- Information and guidelines on corrective action after sexual harassment,
- Information and guidelines on remedying sexual harassment in employment, and
- Practical examples aimed at instructing supervisors in the prevention of harassment, discrimination and retaliation.
All training must be conducted by trainers or educators with knowledge and expertise in the subject.
Starting next year, employers that are required to conduct anti-sexual harassment training must also include “prevention of abusive conduct as a component of the [anti-sexual harassment] training and education.”
Abusive conduct is defined 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. [It] 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.”
That said, the law requires that such treatment must be regular or systematic and that a single incident is not enough to be considered “bullying,” unless it is “especially severe or egregious.”
The new law does not specify the content of the training or what, if any, training materials must be included. It does not specify how much time out of the two hours of anti-sexual harassment training must be focused on bullying.
What you should do
With this new law on the books, you should revisit your anti-sexual harassment training and make appropriate changes to account for the new requirements. You may want to schedule time with your employment law attorney to make sure that you proceed in accordance with the law.
While the new law does not create a private right of action, certain instances of bullying could land you on the receiving end of a lawsuit, particularly if the bullied person is part of a protected class because of their race, gender, religion, disability, age, etc. Theoretically, a plaintiff could argue that an employer’s lack of anti-bullying training contributed to workplace harassment or discrimination.
The way the law is written also should serve as a warning to employers, particularly the use of the word “malice.” This is important because in the context of punitive damages in lawsuits, malice is defined as conduct that’s “intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”