Best in Law: #MeToo Focus of New California Employment Laws - Joseph Ortiz Writes of New Laws Meant to Protect Employees for the Southern California Newspaper Group

Best Best & Krieger LLP

Best Best & Krieger LLP

As #MeToo spread across social media channels in late 2017, bringing to light workplace cultures of abuse and pervasive issues of sexual harassment and assault, the agenda was set for California lawmakers.

Facing rising demands for greater workplace protections against sexual harassment and assault, California expanded safeguards for victims, more employee training and greater employer liability.

Unless otherwise noted, these new laws took effect Jan. 1.

Laws Against Harassment (In Any Form) Expanded
California has long had laws prohibiting doctors, lawyers, accountants, social workers and real estate professionals from abusing their professional relationships and engaging in sexual harassment.

Under Senate Bill 224, this list now includes elected officials, lobbyists, investors, producers, directors and professionals who can help establish a business, service or professional relationship for a client.

The law also amended California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act to make it unlawful for a person to deny and/or aid, incite or conspire in the denial of certain civil rights, based on sexual harassment actions.

Senate Bill 1300 also brought changes to FEHA regarding workplace harassment claims. Employer liability for the acts of nonemployees was extended to include not just sexual harassment, but also any unlawful harassment based on any other protected category.

Included are provisions preventing bribery for not filing harassment claims and authorizing employers to provide bystander training so employees can better identify and report problematic behaviors.

Training to Help Prevent Harassment, Human Trafficking
To raise employee awareness of harassment and human trafficking, employers across industries will be required to train and educate employees on identifying, responding to and reporting various issues.

  • Hotels and motels, excluding bed and breakfasts, must provide employees with at least 20 minutes of prescribed training on human trafficking by 2020 under Senate Bill 970.
  • Agencies, businesses and establishments running intercity passenger rail, light rail and/or bus stations must also provide employees with at least 20 minutes of human trafficking training. Assembly Bill 2034 gives entities until Jan. 1, 2021 to be compliant.
  • Employers with five or more employees must now provide at least 2 hours of training on sexual harassment, abusive conduct and harassment based on gender to all supervisory employees under Senate Bill 1343. Previously only large companies were required to do so. By next year, non-supervisory, migrant, temporary and seasonal workers must receive 1 hour of training.
  • Talent agencies must now provide artists, and their parents/legal guardians if under 18, with educational materials on sexual harassment prevention, retaliation and reporting resources, as well as nutrition and eating disorders.

Victims, Employers Shielded From Liability
Assembly Bill 2770 deems certain communications concerning sexual harassment as privileged – meaning they cannot be used as a basis for a defamation claim – unless those communications were made with malice. These include sexual harassment complaints based on credible evidence and  communications between an employer and people (such as witnesses) regarding a complaint.

Also protected under the law are non-malicious statements made to prospective employers as to whether the prior employer would rehire an employee based on a determination that the employee engaged in sexual harassment.

Minimum Wage, Lactation Spaces and Other Changes

  • California’s minimum wage continued to climb, reaching $12 as of Jan. 1 for employers with 26 or more employees and $11 for businesses employing 25 or fewer employees.
  • Employers are now required to provide breastfeeding mothers with a permanent location — other than a bathroom — where they can pump. Temporary space can be used only under very specific limited circumstances.
  • All publicly traded companies with principal executive offices in California must appoint at least one female to their board of directors by the end of 2019.

This article first appeared in The Daily Bulletin and other Southern California Newspaper Group publications online on Jan. 18, 2019. Republished with permission.

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