California employers with more than 50 employees must include “abusive conduct” prevention training in their mandatory harassment prevention training.  Assembly Bill No. 2053 expanded the scope of training required by Government Code Section 12950.1, which requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide at least two hours of harassment prevention training to supervisory employees for every two years, to also require “abusive conduct” prevention training.  

“Abusive conduct” is defined as “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 infliction of 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.”  A single act may not constitute “abusive conduct,” “unless it is especially severe and egregious.  The new law does not specify how much time must be dedicated to “abusive conduct” prevention training.  It also does not provide any guidelines as to the content or substance needed for this training. 

The new law only requires the additional training component and otherwise does not create a private right of action to pursue a civil claim for “abusive conduct” at the workplace.  However, while this new law does not make workplace bullying illegal, it makes good business sense for covered employers to take reasonable steps necessary to prevent bullying conduct in the workplace.  Accordingly, in addition to ensuring that their harassment training programs comply with this new requirement, as a preventative and proactive approach against liability, covered employers should also review and update their internal policies and disciplinary and complaint procedures.