Just six months ago, the California legislature expanded sexual harassment training to include subjects based on gender identity, expression and sexual orientation. Now, before many companies have even been able to update their handbooks or begin training consistent with the new laws, the State legislature is considering taking harassment prevention training even further. Notably, the following bills are pending in our State’s legislature.
Senate Bill 1343 – This bill seeks to lower the employee threshold requirement for sexual harassment prevention training from fifty (50) employees, down to five (5) employees. As a result, this bill significantly expands the number of employers required to comply with the biennial training. However, the bill eases the burden by allowing employers to comply with the new law simply by affirming their employees have watched a two hour video that will be posted on the DFEH (“Department of Fair Employment & Housing”) website.
Senate Bill 1300 – Under current evidentiary standards, an employer’s failure to conduct harassment training may be used as evidence to establish a FEHA (“Fair Employment & Housing Act”) claim for failing to prevent harassment, discrimination or retaliation. If passed in its current form, this bill would allow a Plaintiff to allege that an employer failed to take steps to prevent harassment without that Plaintiff ever having to establish an underlying harassment claim. Essentially, this means a Plaintiff can allege a cause of action without establishing harm occurred!
Senate Bill 820 – This bill is referred to as the “Stand Together Against Non-Disclosure” (STAND) Act, and would make non-disclosure, or confidentiality provisions, within settlement agreements void as of January 1, 2019. Essentially, this bill allows a Plaintiff who settles a claim involving sexual assault, harassment, discrimination, or claims for failure to prevent such workplace mistreatment, to “go public” with his or her claims even after settlement. However, in its current form, there is a provision which allows the value of the monetary settlement to be kept confidential. Both Defense and Plaintiff’s attorneys have expressed concern this bill will result in a diminished incentive towards settlement, and instead significantly more cases may be taken to trial; further burdening our legal system and driving up the costs of litigation.
While these bills have not yet been signed by Governor Brown, and these bills may still be modified, employers should be proactive in complying with existing training requirements and work with qualified employment counsel. The attorneys at Poole Shaffery have been assisting employers for twenty years with employment matters. We are the law firm for your business.