Many California employers will have to provide sexual harassment training every two years to supervisory employees, thanks to a new law Gov. Schwarzenegger recently signed. Those who are covered will have until January 2006 to comply, but preparations should begin now.
Harassment Training Required
Here’s an overview of the new law’s provisions:
- Employers covered. The training requirements apply to all public and private employers with 50 or more employees. An employer is anyone regularly employing 50 or more individuals, including independent contractors and temporary service workers.
- Employees covered. The training requirements cover all supervisory employees. Although the new law doesn’t define “supervisory employee,” the California Fair Employment and Housing Act interprets the term to cover anyone with authority to hire, transfer, suspend, lay off, recall, promote, discharge, assign, reward, or discipline other employees, or the responsibility to direct other employees, adjust grievances, or effectively to recommend that action. This is true as long as the exercise of authority requires independent judgment and isn’t merely routine or clerical.
- Effective date. The initial training must be provided no later than Jan. 1, 2006, for supervisors employed as of July 1, 2005, and for all new supervisory employees within six months of their assuming a supervisory position. However, if you have provided such training to supervisory employees after Jan. 1, 2003, you aren’t subject to the Jan. 1, 2006, deadline, although the two-year retraining requirement still applies.
- Periodic training required. The law states that covered employers must conduct sexual harassment training and education every two years for all supervisory employees.
- Training content. Two hours of training must be provided, consisting of classroom or other “effective interactive” training and education regarding sexual harassment. The training must offer information and practical guidance on federal and state requirements regarding sexual harassment prohibitions, prevention, correction, and remedies for victims. It must also give practical examples of how to prevent harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.
- Requirements for trainers. The training must be presented by trainers or educators with knowledge or expertise in harassment prevention.
- Minimum threshold only. The law merely establishes a minimum threshold for harassment training and doesn’t discourage employers from providing longer, more frequent, or more involved training as may be necessary to prevent and correct harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
- Special rules for state employees. Harassment training for supervisors employed by the state must be incorporated into the existing requirement of 80 hours of training for all new supervisory employees.
- Violations. If you don’t comply with the new requirements, the Fair Employment and Housing Commission can issue an order directing you to comply. Note that if you don’t conduct training according to the new law, you won’t automatically be liable to an employee or applicant for sexual harassment. Conversely, complying with the training rules won’t insulate you from liability for sexual harassment.
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What to Do
Here are five pointers to help you prepare for the law:
- Implement a training program. If you don’t already have a sexual harassment training program in place, now is the time to do so to meet the Jan. 1, 2006, deadline. If you’re hit with a harassment lawsuit in the meantime, not having training and other prevention measures in place can increase your liability. Plus, having a harassment training program can help you avoid harassment problems in the first place.
- Ensure the program is interactive. The training should be conducted by a live presenter or via an interactive web program. A video presentation alone, without the opportunity for Q & A or role playing, probably won’t suffice.
- Set a schedule. Create a written training schedule to ensure that you provide training to each supervisor at least every two years. The schedule should be updated as needed when new supervisors are hired or an employee is promoted to a supervisory position.
- Keep scrupulous documentation. Keep detailed logs of attendees, dates, and times of training sessions, as well as a copy of training materials and outlines used in the presentation. It’s wise to maintain presenters’ contact information and background information establishing their qualifications to conduct harassment training.
- Update your sexual harassment policy. Refer to the supervisor training your organization provides, including the timetable.