Following a long legislative year, Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law several pieces of legislation aimed at curbing sexual harassment in the workplace. This topic dominated conversation in the California legislature in 2018, as both the Assembly and the Senate sought to update and amend the state’s sexual harassment laws in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
While Governor Brown vetoed a number of sexual harassment bills, including AB 1867 (Record Retention) and AB 3080 (Ban on Mandatory Arbitration Agreements), the bills he signed are sure to shake up employers’ current business practices.
Here are a few of the #MeToo and workplace bills signed into law:
Originally introduced by Assemblymember Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara), AB 1976 introduces new employer obligations regarding lactation rooms and break periods for breastfeeding mothers. Previous state law required employers to make reasonable efforts to provide employees with a room or location other than a toilet stall for an employee to breastfeed privately. AB 1976 changes the law to specify that employers must make reasonable efforts to provide a room “other than a bathroom” (emphasis added). Unless an employer can demonstrate to the Department of Industrial Relations that the lactation room requirement creates an undue hardship, they must make reasonable efforts to provide a location that is not a bathroom.
AB 1976 goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.
The STAND Act
SB 820, from Senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino Hills), takes aim at confidentiality provisions in settlement agreements. Also known as the Stand Together Against Non-Disclosure (STAND) Act, the new law prohibits non-disclosure clauses in settlement agreements involving sexual assault, sexual harassment, or sex discrimination.
SB 820 impacts settlement agreements entered into after January 1, 2019.
Expanded Sexual Harassment Training
Senator Holly Mitchell’s (D-Los Angeles) SB 1343 establishes new requirements for sexual harassment training. By January 1, 2020, employers with five or more employees must provide at least two hours of sexual harassment prevention training to all supervisors within six months of their start of employment and at least one hour of sexual harassment prevention training to all nonsupervisory employees.
While SB 1343 changes the training requirements, it does not change the training content requirements under existing law.
Comprehensive Workplace Harassment Laws
As discussed in our last update, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson’s (D-Santa Barbara) SB 1300 is a comprehensive sexual harassment bill. With Governor Brown’s signature, employers can no longer require an employee to sign a release of claims under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) in exchange for a raise or as a condition of employment or continued employment.
The new law will expand sexual harassment liability for third parties, meaning an employer could be liable for all forms of harassment committed by nonemployees.
SB 1300 introduces “bystander intervention training” to encourage employees to speak up and step in when they witness workplace harassment. Employers may – but are not required to – provide this training, with an emphasis on practical guidance to enable bystanders to recognize problematic behaviors and to encourage them to take action.
This new law takes effect on January 1, 2019.
What it all means
For employers in California, good workplace policies and training programs are more critical now than ever before. Employers should review their current employment forms, handbooks, policies and procedures and consider revisions and updates to ensure compliance with these new laws. You should also examine your workplace harassment prevention programs, as well as your internal processes for reporting and addressing claims. Complying with all the changes in law can be a challenging task, but now is the time to prepare your business to avoid getting behind the 8-ball in the year ahead.