California Bill Would Expand Harassment-Prevention Training

By Toni Vranjes May 21, 2018
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A California lawmaker has introduced legislation that would expand harassment-prevention training requirements—and the bill has both pros and cons for employers, according to experts.

Currently, California employers with 50 or more workers must provide training to supervisors only. Under the bill, SB 1343, businesses with five or more workers would need to train all of their employees.

By January 2020, covered employers would need to provide two hours of harassment-prevention training. Thereafter, employers would need to educate workers on this topic once every two years.

One benefit of the legislation is that complaints might be brought to management's attention at an earlier stage, which would be a good development, according to Jack Schaedel, an employment attorney with Scali Rasmussen in Los Angeles.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Complying with California Sexual Harassment Training Requirements]

However, there are some aspects of the bill that raised concerns. In interviews with SHRM Online, employment attorneys and a harassment-prevention trainer said that the two-hour training requirement is excessive for nonsupervisory employees. Also, concerns were raised about the impact of the bill on small businesses.

The Details

The bill was introduced by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles. Under the legislation, the training would need to cover:

  • Prevention of sexual harassment.
  • Prevention of abusive conduct.
  • Prevention of harassment based on gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.

According to the bill, employers could either develop their own two-hour training program or have workers view a training video to be developed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

"I think education is always a great idea," said Linda Robinson, who provides harassment-prevention training through ModernHR in West Hollywood. "I think the more we can share knowledge, the better."

It's important for all employees to understand the definition of harassment and what types of conduct are prohibited, said Christopher Olmsted, an employment attorney with Ogletree Deakins in San Diego. Employees also should know what to do if they experience harassment.

Schaedel similarly likes the idea of providing training to all employees. By doing this, businesses may create a culture of reporting, rather than a culture of silence, he noted. Because of the expanded training, employers may get reports of misconduct earlier than they otherwise would, allowing them to address these issues relatively quickly. In this way, employers could prevent even bigger problems down the line.

How Much Training?

However, experts questioned the need for two hours of training for all employees. "Although some amount of training is prudent for nonsupervisory employees, in my view the two-hour requirement may be more than is reasonably necessary," Olmsted said.

Robinson agreed. For nonsupervisory employees, "I don't see why two hours would be necessary," she said.

Nonsupervisory employees should understand the employer's policy, have examples of what's inappropriate and understand the steps to take if they are experiencing unwelcome attention of any type, according to Robinson. Generally, this type of training can be provided in about an hour or so, she said.

In contrast, there are more areas to cover when providing anti-harassment training to supervisors, Robinson observed. For instance, California regulations require supervisors to report any misconduct complaints to a company representative.

"For supervisors, two hours is just barely enough," Robinson said.

Schaedel also said the two-hour training requirement for nonsupervisory employees seems excessive. They might lose interest during the two-hour span, so it would probably be better if the training period were shorter, he said.

Impact on Small Businesses

Another concern is that SB 1343 would affect a large number of smaller businesses, according to Olmsted. "The bill puts a new and significant training obligation on employers who may not have prior experience doing this," he said.

Small businesses might not have the resources to develop their own internal training programs. In that case, they would need to either seek help from an outside trainer or rely on the state's training video, according to Olmsted.

Using an outside trainer costs money, which could place a burden on smaller businesses, he noted.

But Olmstead also expressed skepticism that the state government can develop an engaging presentation. "I question whether the state can really put together a compelling presentation," he said.

Toni Vranjes is a freelance business writer in San Pedro, Calif.

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