WORKPLACE LAW – Sexual Harassment Training Expanded

QUESTION: I heard that sexual harassment prevention training will soon be mandatory for all California employees. Is that true?

ANSWER: On September 30, 2018 Governor Brown signed into law several bills aimed at addressing the prevalence of workplace sexual harassment that continues to be highlighted by #MeToo and related movements. One such bill, SB 1343, expands mandatory sexual harassment prevention training to California businesses with five or more employees and requires all employees to receive either one or two hours of sexual harassment prevention training depending on whether they hold a supervisory or non-supervisory position.

Since 2005, California public employers, and private employers with 50 or more employees, have been required to provide at least two hours of effective interactive training and education regarding sexual harassment to all supervisory employees within six months of their assuming a supervisory role and once every two years thereafter. SB 1343 expands this training mandate to require employers with five or more employees, including temporary and seasonal employees, to provide sexual harassment training to ALL employees by January 1, 2020. In addition to the minimum 2-hour training requirement for supervisors, non-supervisory employees must receive at least one hour of sexual harassment prevention training within six months of hire and at least once every two years thereafter.

Practically speaking, employers will need to complete the requisite trainings for most of their employees in 2019 to be compliant by the January 1, 2020 deadline. Employers who currently offer sexual harassment prevention training to their supervisory employees may provide combined trainings, with all employees attending the first hour of training and reserving the second hour for supervisors only when management-specific topics will be covered.

For employers who have never offered sexual harassment prevention training in the past, there are several options for compliance. Employers may develop their own training programs or utilize a third-party company that qualifies to do the training under California Department of Fair Employment and Housing regulations for either in-person or online training that satisfies the requisite training and education requirements. Employers will also soon have the option to direct their employees to online training courses hosted by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) to satisfy their harassment prevention training obligations. SB 1343 requires the DFEH to develop or obtain online training courses that satisfy both the 1-hour and 2-hour harassment prevention training requirements, and to make those online courses available to employers and the public on its website. The online courses, along with existing informational posters and fact sheets regarding sexual harassment prevention, must be made available by the DFEH in specified alternate languages.

SB 1343 is just one of a series of bills signed by Governor Brown on September 30, 2018 relating to workplace sexual harassment. These include: SB 820, which prohibits certain nondisclosure provisions in settlement agreements relating to sexual harassment or misconduct; SB 1300, a complex Sexual Harassment Omnibus Bill; AB 3109, banning waivers of an employee’s right to testify regarding sexual harassment or criminal conduct; SB 970, which requires human trafficking awareness training to hotel and motel employers; and SB 224, which strengthens prohibitions against harassment in professional relationships.

All employers should take seriously their responsibility to educate their workforce about sexual harassment prevention and to create a respectful work culture that provides every employee with an equal opportunity to succeed in the workplace.