Decision: A new California law requiring company supervisors to undergo anti-bullying training took effect on January 1, 2015. The law mandates employers with 50 or more workers to include in their sexual harassment training curriculum additional training about preventing “abusive conduct” in the workplace. The statute defines “abusive conduct” as the “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.” Such conduct may include repeated 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.” The new law clarifies that a single act does not constitute abusive conduct, unless especially severe or egregious.
Impact: Although the new law does not create a private right of action for workplace bullying, employees may use the statute to plead an employer’s failure to comply with public policy. To reduce liability, employers should include training on workplace bullying as part of their mandated sexual harassment training and should keep good records of employee participation in the training. Employers should also investigate and address any employee complaints of bullying if they arise, just as the employer would investigate claims of sexual harassment or discrimination.