California law not only prohibits discrimination and harassment, but also requires employers with five or more employees to “take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring.” For many years, the law did not define the steps that an employer must take to prevent discrimination and harassment, however, and practices varied widely between companies. In 2006, the Legislature enacted a law that requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide sexual harassment training to supervisors every two years, but the law imposed no obligations on smaller employers.
Following the passage of Senate Bill 1343 in 2018, employers with five or more employees in California (including temporary or seasonal employees) are now required to provide training on the prevention of sexual harassment as well. SB 1343 extends required training to both supervisors and non-supervisors, and requires training to be completed by January 1, 2020. Training for supervisors must be at least two hours in length (matching the requirement under existing law for larger employers), and training for non-supervisors must last at least one hour. Once completed, training must be repeated at least every two years.
The new law not only expands the training mandate applicable to California employers, it also designates various topics that must be addressed during the training, including, among other things, (a) practical guidance regarding the prevention and correction of harassment, (b) the remedies available to victims of harassment, and (c) examples of harassment based on gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. Training must be interactive and must afford participants with the opportunity to ask questions.
The mandatory training law states that it “is intended to establish a minimum threshold” for training. Non-complying companies that become entangled in litigation concerning alleged discrimination or harassment are likely to be portrayed as indifferent or even hostile to their legal responsibilities, thereby increasing the risk of a substantial verdict and/or an award of punitive damages against them. Completing the required training, (on demand webcast for non-managers; on demand webcast for supervisors) is even more important in light of the heightened sensitivity to harassment claims in the wake of the MeToo movement.