Seyfarth Synopsis: Following a season of unprecedented outcry over persistent work-related sexual harassment, known best as the “#MeToo” movement, California lawmakers this session have considered a record number of bills that address the problem. One bill, AB 1867, recently passed by the Legislature and discussed below, will (if signed by the Governor) require large employers to keep records of all employee complaints alleging sexual harassment for at least five years. Other bills working their way through the process (as if to say “me, too”) also address this vital topic, as we briefly recap below.
Potential New Recording-Keeping Law
If signed by Governor Brown, AB 1867 will add Government Code section 12950.5 to the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). This bill would require employers of 50 or more employees to maintain internal records of complaints alleging sexual harassment for five years after the date the complainant or any alleged harasser leaves the company—whichever date is later.
AB 1867 would define an “employee complaint” as one filed through the employer’s “internal complaint process.” Existing law already requires California employers to maintain anti-harassment policies that inform employees of the complaint process available to them. The new law would permit the state Department of Labor to seek an order compelling any employer to comply with the record-keeping requirement.
In practice, this law would likely not add too much of an administrative burden to the larger employers covered by it. It is the rare—and foolhardy—California employer that does not already utilize an internal employee complaint process that takes seriously and investigates every complaint of harassment. This law would merely mandate that records of the complaints alleging sexual harassment must be maintained for the employment-plus-five-year period.
This bill raises other questions, though, for the thoughtful employer anticipating logistical issues: Would the law also mandate preservation of any investigation files? Who would have access to the preserved complaint records? What about the privacy rights of the parties involved? Would an applicant for employment at a company have a right to demand to see any complaints made alleging sexual harassment against the company? The answer to the last question should almost certainly be “No,” so long as California’s constitutional right of privacy remains intact. But it does highlight concerns about the potential use of the documents required to be maintained, which contains, by definition, only allegations of sexual misconduct.
AB 1867 is not the only potential new law in this summer of #MeToo. Also heading to the Governor’s desk is AB 3109, which would void any contractual provision that waives a party’s right to testify about criminal conduct or sexual harassment by the other contracting.
Also being presented to the Governor is AB 3080—which we recently highlighted here. This bill would outlaw mandatory arbitration agreements between businesses and employees or independent contractors, and thus ensure that harassment complaints get aired in public lawsuits instead of private arbitrations. Further, AB 3080 would prohibit any contractual rule against disclosing instances of sexual harassment.
Nine other bills addressing workplace harassment are currently wending their way through the Legislature, their fates still unknown:
On the Assembly Floor:
The potentially onerous SB 1300 would (1) amend FEHA by expanding an employer’s potential liability, (2) prohibit a release of claims under FEHA or a nondisclosure agreement (with certain exceptions) in exchange for a raise or a bonus or as a condition of employment or continued employment, and (3) prohibit a prevailing defendant from being awarded fees and costs in certain circumstances.
SB 1038 would impose personal liability under FEHA for retaliating against a person who has filed a complaint against the employee, testified against the employee, assisted in any proceeding, or opposed any prohibited practice.
SB 1343 would expand sexual harassment prevention training requirements to employers with five or more employees and would require that Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) materials be made available in multiple languages.
SB 820 would void provisions in settlement agreements that prevent the disclosure of facts relating to sexual assault, sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and failure to prevent sex-based harassment and discrimination.
SB 224 would give additional examples of professional relationships where liability for claims of sexual harassment may arise and authorize the DFEH to investigate those circumstances.
On the Senate Floor:
AB 2079 would expand requirements when applying to register as a janitorial business and expand sexual harassment prevention training.
AB 1870 would extend the period to file an administrative charge with the DFEH alleging an unlawful employment practice under the FEHA. The current deadline is one year from the time the alleged incident. AB 1870 would extend the deadline to three years.
AB 2338 would require talent agencies to provide to adult artists, within 90 days of retention, educational materials on sexual harassment prevention, retaliation, nutrition, and eating disorders. Talent agencies would also have to retain, for three years, records showing that those educational materials were provided.
AB 3082 would require the state Department of Social Services to develop or identify educational materials addressing sexual harassment of in-home supportive services (IHSS) providers, develop or identify a method to collect data on the prevalence of sexual harassment in the IHSS program, and provide a summary of those items to the Legislature by September 30, 2019.
Stay tuned for updates on which, if any, #MeToo bill will make it over the enactment finish line, adding to the body of work that makes California employment law the peculiar wonder that it is.