If you work for or manage a business located in California, you’re more than likely familiar with the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), more commonly referred to as the California Anti-Harassment Law. As a mainstay of California compliance law, FEHA has been a defining feature of the workplace since 1959 when the law was first enacted. At its simplest level, FEHA prohibits discrimination and harassment against any person belonging to a protected category. It’s not quite that simple, though. There have been quite a few changes, additions, and amendments to the law over the past 60 years, including several major ones just this year. You might be less familiar with new California anti-harassment laws enacted in early 2019. But don’t worry. We’ll cover everything you need to know in this blog post.
Let’s review. During the mid-20th Century, the United States government passed several series of laws that made certain forms of discrimination and harassment illegal. Mostly, these laws pertained to race, class, and gender. The laws protecting people from discrimination because of disability, sexual orientation, and other categories would come in the following decades.
FEHA was one of the laws from the earlier period. In fact, FEHA even predates the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was and still is one of the most prominent anti-discrimination laws in the United States. Since 1959, however, FEHA has undergone many changes.
FEHA now protects people belonging to the following categories from workplace discrimination and harassment and housing discrimination: “race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, or military and veteran status” (California Legislative Information).
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, California Governor Jerry Brown signed 8 bills into law in 2018 that aim to prevent sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination in the workplace (San Francisco Chronicle). While each of these laws merit individual attention, we’re going to review three specific laws that pertain to harassment prevention in the workplace that have been in effect as of January 1st, 2019.
1. SB 826: California Senate Bill no. 826 has received the most media attention so far. In essence, SB 826 requires publicly traded companies located in California to appoint at least one female board member by the end of 2019. By the end of the 2021 calendar year, companies with six or more board members must have at least three female directors, companies with five board members must have two female directors, and companies with four or fewer board members must have one female director. The bill cites several studies that found that businesses with more women directors prove more successful. However, other studies show that it will take 40-50 years to achieve gender parity, so this bill is aimed at speeding up the process.
2. SB 1300: Senate Bill no. 1300 contains several new provisions designed to prevent all kinds of harassment. This bill expands the previous definition of harassment as provided by FEHA to include even more protected categories. Furthermore, SB 1300 also prohibits employers from requiring that employees in harassment cases sign two types of documents: one that is an agreement to not sue of file a claim against the employer in a harassment case and another, which is a nondisparagement agreement that keeps employees from disclosing information regarding unlawful actions in a workplace to outside parties. Essentially, this provision of SB 1300 gives employees a legal avenue for speaking out about harassment and other illegal practices in their workplaces.
3. SB 1343: Senate Bill no. 1343 increases the amount of harassment training that employers must provide. By January 1, 2020, employers with five or more employees must provide two hours of anti-harassment training to all supervisors and one hour for all non-supervisory employees within six months of their hiring date and every two years afterward. All in all, the signing of this bill into law means that businesses need to reassess their current anti-harassment training solution to see if it complies with the current legal standards.
How to Prepare for the Changes
As with any compliance laws, there are steps you can take to understand and prepare for the new California compliance laws. For more in-depth strategies for keeping your compliance policy up to snuff, read this blog.
- Research the new laws.
- Consult an attorney to help you update your compliance policy.
- Conduct a regularly scheduled mock risk assessment.
- Document your compliance policy and re-evaluate it yearly.
- Train your employees.
DigitalChalk Can Help
Training is critical to understanding the new California anti-harassment laws. That’s why it’s important to find a training solution that is innovative, effective, and easy to use. That’s where DigitalChalk comes in. Check out our on-demand course library for up-to-date California Anti-Harassment training: