California Employer LAWlert: New Law Requires Anti-Bullying Training in the Workplace

Current California law requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide two hours of sexual harassment training and education to all supervisors and managers every 2 years and for newly hired or promoted employees, within six months of the employee’s assumption of a supervisory role. Specifically, the training must include information and practical guidance regarding the federal and state statutory provisions concerning the prohibition, prevention, correction and remedying of sexual harassment in the workplace.  Sexual harassment training should be aimed at instructing supervisors in the prevention of harassment, discrimination and retaliation. It must also be presented by trainers or educators with substantial knowledge and expertise in the specific subject matter. As of January 1, 2015, covered employers will be required to include “prevention of abusive conduct as a component of [sexual harassment] training and education . . . .” The new law 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. [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…[A] “single act shall not constitute abusive conduct, unless especially severe or egregious.” In the context of punitive damages, “malice” is defined as conduct which is “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.” New anti-bullying training should guide supervisors in refraining from acting impulsively in difficult workplace situations and provide tools for supervisors to dissipate heightened emotions that they may experience. Examples should be given regarding co-worker bullying and how that can be handled or prevented. With the phrase “gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance” in the definition of “abusive conduct”, the legislature seeks to distinguish between bona fide performance critiques and indignant remarks that do not serve the employer’s legitimate business interests. Training, therefore, should address and explain the difference between tenacious management and bullying while considering unusual situations, such as a manager who purposely places lower grades on an evaluation than are justified or intentionally credits someone other than the responsible individual for work that was well performed.   Recommendations:
  1. Ensure that anti-bullying components are included in your next round of sexual harassment trainings.
  2. Consider inserting anti-bullying language into your employee handbook establishing that it is a violation of company policy to engage in workplace bullying.
  3. Take complaints seriously, investigate promptly, and discipline offenders appropriately.
We hope you found this information of value. Please do not hesitate to contact Holman HR with any questions you may have.