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California Just Expanded Mandated Training

Since 2006, California employers who employ or contract with over 50 individuals to provide it service are mandated to provide regular sexual harassment training to its supervisors.  Assembly Bill 1825 resulted in the creation of Section 12950.1 of the Government Code, which required mandatory sexual harassment training for supervisors within 6 months of taking up the supervisory position and every two years thereafter.  

Well, the subject matter of that training is expanding immediately.  On September 10, 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 2053.  This bill amends Section 12950.1 of the Government Code to make a number of technical, administrative changes to the statute.  However, it also substantively expanded the subject matter of the mandated training to include the prevention of abusive conduct.  

Assembly Bill 1825 was focused on sexual harassment and discrimination:

[T]he training and education required by this section shall include information and practical guidance regarding the federal and state statutory provisions concerning the prohibition against and the prevention and correction of sexual harassment and the remedies available to victims of sexual harassment in employment. The training and education shall also include practical examples aimed at instructing supervisors in the prevention of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.

Assembly Bill 2053 expands the training to include the "prevention of abusive conduct" as a component of that training and education.  New subsection (g)(2) of the statute defines abusive conduct as:

[C]onduct 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. Abusive 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.  

The subsection also provides that, "[a] single act shall not constitute abusive conduct, unless especially severe and egregious."

What is still unclear from the law is the effect it has on present employers.  Employers who had supervisors recently complete their AB 1825 training may now find themselves out of compliance.  If the training did not include the "prevention of abusive conduct" as required by statute, then the training was insufficient.  Employers may have to have their supervisors complete another training that incorporates that aspect into the training.  

Furthermore, the statute provides a broad definition of abusive conduct within a former statute mandating the prevention of sexual harassment training.  As a result, it is unclear whether the training was to include sexual harassment-related abusive conduct, all forms of illegal abusive conduct (i.e. race-related, age-related, gender-related, etc.), or abusive conduct in general.  Many legal professionals will be relying upon a deep investigation into the legislative history and comments by individual legislators to discern which direction to go in light of these gray areas of the law's applicability.

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