Recent Changes in California Workplace Harassment Laws

California has always been at the forefront of protecting employees from workplace harassment. In recent years, California has made significant changes to its workplace harassment laws, providing more protections to employees and increasing the responsibilities of employers to prevent and respond to workplace harassment. In this blog post, we will explore the recent changes to California’s workplace harassment laws.

Expanded Definition of Harassment

In 2019, California expanded the definition of workplace harassment to include any conduct that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. This change in the law means that employees no longer have to prove that the harassment was severe or pervasive, but rather that the conduct was enough to create a hostile work environment.

No-Mandatory Arbitration Agreements

As of January 1, 2020, employers in California are no longer allowed to require employees to sign arbitration agreements as a condition of employment. This change in the law means that employees can bring their harassment claims to court instead of being forced into arbitration.

Increased Employer Responsibilities

In 2018, California passed a law that requires employers with five or more employees to provide at least two hours of sexual harassment prevention training to all supervisory employees and at least one hour of training to all non-supervisory employees. The law also requires that employers have a written policy in place that prohibits harassment and provides a complaint process for employees.

Prohibition on Confidentiality Clauses

As of January 1, 2019, employers are no longer allowed to include confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements related to sexual harassment or discrimination. This change in the law means that employees who settle harassment claims are now free to speak publicly about their experiences if they choose to do so.

Stricter Liability for Employers

California law now holds employers strictly liable for harassment committed by supervisors or managers, regardless of whether the employer knew about the harassment. This change in the law means that employers can no longer avoid liability by claiming they were unaware of the harassment.

In addition to the changes mentioned above, it is important to note that California’s workplace harassment laws are constantly evolving, and employers must stay up-to-date on the latest developments. Here are a few additional changes that have been proposed or are currently being considered:

Timeframe for Filing Complaints

Currently, employees have one year from the date of the harassment to file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). However, a proposed bill (AB 1870) would extend the timeframe to three years, giving employees more time to file a complaint and potentially increasing the number of harassment claims.

Protections for Freelancers and Contractors

In recent years, the gig economy has grown rapidly, with many workers classified as independent contractors or freelancers. However, these workers are often not covered by traditional employment laws, including those related to harassment. A proposed bill (AB 491) would extend workplace harassment protections to freelancers and contractors, ensuring that all workers are protected from harassment regardless of their employment status.

Increased Penalties for Employers

Employers who violate California’s workplace harassment laws can face significant penalties, including fines, damages, and legal fees. However, a proposed bill (AB 628) would increase the penalties for employers who engage in retaliation against employees who report harassment. The bill would also make it easier for employees to bring retaliation claims against their employers.

California’s workplace harassment laws have undergone significant changes in recent years, and employers must stay informed and comply with these laws to avoid liability and create a safe and inclusive work environment for their employees. With the ongoing changes and proposals, it is important for employers to stay vigilant and adapt their policies and practices to ensure that they are in compliance with the latest developments.

As a team of legal professionals, we can provide assistance to both employers and employees navigating the recent changes in California’s workplace harassment laws. Our team can offer legal advice, representation, training, investigations, and mediation services to help our clients comply with the latest developments and create a safe and inclusive work environment for all. We can also work with clients to develop effective policies and procedures for handling harassment complaints, and ensure that their workplace culture promotes respect and dignity for all employees. By working together, we can help our clients navigate the complex and evolving landscape of workplace harassment laws and protect the rights of all employees.

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