The deadline for compliance with California's new law requiring supervisors to be trained in the prevention of sexual harassment is rapidly approaching; employers with 50 or more employees have until December 31, 2005 to comply. And with the recent California Supreme Court ruling that employers can be held liable for a hostile work environment created when co-workers become romantically involved outside of the workplace, employers are taking compliance more seriously than ever before.
So what do employers need to do to comply with the new law? California Assembly Bill 1825 (AB 1825) mandates all supervisors receive two hours of interactive training, to be repeated every two years. Regardless of where the employer is based, any employer with employees in California is obligated to provide supervisors with the necessary training.
Before the December deadline, any person in a supervisory position as of July 1, 2005 must receive at least two hours "of classroom or other effective interactive training and education regarding sexual harassment." New supervisors hired or promoted after July 1 must receive the training within six months.
The two hours may be broken into shorter classes, but employers should be advised that the training required under AB 1825 is "intended to establish a minimum threshold" and that employers are responsible for taking "all reasonable steps necessary to prevent and correct harassment and discrimination."
During training sessions, supervisors should receive information about federal and state law regarding sexual harassment. They should receive practical guidance regarding the prevention and correction of sexual harassment, as well as the remedies available to victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. In order to be compliant, the training must include practical example situations to help supervisors recognize and deal appropriately with sexual harassment.
Compliance with AB 1825 does not, in and of itself, insulate the employer from liability in the event of a sexual harassment lawsuit. Additionally, training in sexual harassment prevention will not defend the employer against claims of discrimination on the basis of race, religion, age, disability, etc.
Statistically, greater than half of employers report at least one sexual harassment lawsuit each year, suggesting employers must take proactive measures to prevent a hostile work environment. Although information on AB 1825 is available from Cal/OSHA, many workplace solutions firms have put together informational packages and online training programs to help employers become fully compliant.
According to Jackson-Lewis LLP in California, less than half of employers have complied with AB 1825 requirements, and fewer still have plans to do so by the deadline. Non-compliance with the law exposes employers to citations and increased liability should a sexual harassment lawsuit be filed.
The cost of compliance with AB 1825, as well as with other harassment and discrimination legislation, is far less than potential losses due to harassment claims and lawsuits, not to mention the negative publicity that can come out of these cases. The deadline is approaching, but employers still have time to follow through. Start planning and training now, and you can achieve your goal of compliance well before the deadline.