In the past few years, bullying in schools and in the workplace has come to the forefront of media and legislative attention. In 2003, California became the first state to propose workforce anti-bullying legislation. Since then, 23 other states have proposed similar laws, but these efforts have been largely unsuccessful. Until now.
In September, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 2053, the first state law requiring anti-bullying training in the workplace. The law requires employers with 50 or more employees to train supervisors on the prevention of “abusive conduct” in the workplace.
The new law defines “abusive conduct” as conduct “with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests.” The law also provides examples of what might constitute abusive conduct, including: repeated 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 adds that a “single act shall not constitute abusive conduct, unless especially severe or egregious.”
California law already requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide at least two hours of sexual harassment training to all supervisory employees at least once every two years. The new anti-bullying training must be incorporated into the sexual harassment training.
Employers with a presence in California should review their supervisor training programs to ensure they address not only discrimination and harassment, but also bullying in the workplace. The new training requirements are required beginning on January 1, 2015. For purposes of satisfying the 50-employee threshold under the law, all employees are counted, regardless of whether or not they are based in California. However, only California-based supervisors must be trained.
It is important to note that the new law does not prohibit or subject employers to liability for workplace bullying. It simply requires that employers provide training to supervisors on the prevention of abusive conduct.