Why it matters: The California Legislature continues to keep employers in the state on their toes. In September, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that mandates the inclusion of “abusive conduct” prevention in employment training. Intended to be preventative in nature, the antibullying training must be held in conjunction with mandated sexual harassment training for supervisors. Employers should begin the process of implementing the new training now as the law takes effect January 1, 2015. In other employment-related news, Governor Brown vetoed a bill that would have added unemployment status as a protected category under state law. The measure, passed by the state Assembly and Senate, banned employers from asking an applicant’s employment status before the employer determined that the applicant met minimum qualifications for the position. But expressing concern that the bill would complicate efforts to connect unemployed individuals with employers, the Governor refused to sign it.

Detailed Discussion

Bullying in the workplace has been a hot topic for employers, although neither courts nor state legislatures have established liability – yet. A new law in California does not create a cause of action, but it does mandate that employers train their employees about the issue, dubbed “abusive conduct.”

Existing law requires employers with at least 50 employees to provide two hours of classroom or other effective interactive training regarding sexual harassment prevention to California supervisory employees at least once every two years; new supervisors have a six-month window to fulfill their first training.

Beginning January 1, 2015, covered employers must add training on “abusive conduct” to their sexual harassment supervisory training. The amendment to the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act defines “abusive conduct” as “conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to legitimate business interests.”

Examples of abusive conduct 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.”

The law notes that – unless it is “especially severe or egregious” – a single act shall not constitute abusive conduct. While the new law did not add “abusive conduct” as a protected category of individuals under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, simply adding the training requirement, employers can be penalized by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing for failure to comply with the training mandate.

In other employment legislation news, employers dodged additional hiring restrictions when Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have prevented employers from inquiring about an applicant’s employment status.

The state Assembly passed AB 2271 by a 51-to-23 margin in May and the Senate followed suit in a 55-to-21 vote in August. But while Governor Brown indicated support for the intent behind the bill, he declined to sign it into law.

The proposed law “could impede the state’s efforts to connect unemployed workers to prospective employers as currently drafted,” Governor Brown said in his veto order. “There is no doubt these Californians want to get back to work and I want to help them get there – unfortunately this bill does not provide the proper path to address this problem.”

As passed by the State Legislature, the bill prohibited employers from asking applicants to disclose their employment status prior to a determination that the applicant met the minimum qualifications for the position. In addition, the bill banned employers or employment agencies from advertising jobs with a provision that current employment was a requirement. Violations of the proposal would have been subject to civil penalties.

Assemblymember Ian C. Calderon, who sponsored the bill, said he was “deeply disappointed” in Governor Brown’s veto and intended to try again, citing research about the difficulties facing long-term unemployed individuals.

To read the new law, click here.

To read the vetoed legislation, click here.

To read Governor Brown’s veto order, click here.