With Senate Bill 778, California has extended the deadline for sexual harassment prevention training from January 1, 2020 (less than 3 months from now) to January 1, 2021. Approved on August 30, 2019 and effective immediately, SB 778 modifies SB 1343 to give employers more time to train employees and meet the new training requirement. Under previous California sexual harassment law, only employers with fifty or more employees had to provide sexual harassment training, and the training was only mandated for supervisors, not regular employees. Now all employers with five or more employees must train all employees, not just supervisors.
The CA SB 778 extension will also provide the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing with additional time to develop and publish model training materials, as was promised in the text of the new California law.
Although Governor Newsome has given California employers additional time to meet their compliance requirements, here are 10 reasons why waiting to train your employees is a bad idea:
- The intent of the new sexual harassment law is to make all employees aware of their right to a harassment-free workplace. Therefore, delaying training may send the message that the safety and rights of your employees are not high priorities.
- Proper education helps prevent and minimize inappropriate behavior. Educating employees on harassment empowers them to recognize sexual harassment when it occurs and report it.
- Training also greatly benefits managers by reinforcing guidelines to which they can refer when sexual harassment occurs. During training, managers are given an open forum to ask an expert questions, learn new strategies, and identify areas of improvement. Training is especially valuable to new managers, who may not have direct experience handling sexual harassment, or are unfamiliar with the law.
- The extension did not extend the January 1, 2020, training requirement for seasonal, temporary, or other employees hired to work for less than six months. These employees still must be trained within 30 calendar days after their hire date or within 100 hours worked, whichever comes first.
- Training can help protect your business by creating an affirmative defense. Documentation (certificates of completion, course overviews, sign-in sheets, etc.) demonstrates that employees received training. This can be useful when defending the business in court, as it provides training dates and other information that can help prove the employer made good faith efforts to prevent sexual harassment. It also it also documents that the employees who attended the training were made aware of the expectations for acceptable behavior in the workplace.
- Training lets employees know you are aware of social issues. The #MeToo movement is directly responsible for major updates to sexual harassment laws in California, Illinois, and New York, and other states are joining the chorus. Once word gets out that your company has standards and is working to change its culture, you may end up attracting a more diverse group of talented applicants.
- Training encourages a sense of community. Employees are given an open forum to talk about problems, create solutions, and work toward a common goal. Victims of harassment may feel isolated, and hearing about similar shared experiences from co-workers can lead to employees banding together to support one another, rather than turning a blind-eye.
- An employer can be held legally responsible for the actions of its employees. Therefore, it is far less expensive to train employees on harassment today, than to defend yourself from a harassment lawsuit tomorrow.
- It decreases fear of retaliation. Employees often refuse to report legitimate harassment to management because they fear reprisal, or want to avoid co-workers learning about the incident and gossiping. Training helps dispel incorrect assumptions about the reporting process, and reinforces that retaliation is illegal, and employees who come forward are protected by confidentiality.
- It creates a consistent message. When all of your employees are on the same page, there are no excuses. Even application of all of your policies is critical, otherwise it opens the door to allegations of favoritism or negligence.
The sooner your employees are made aware of California’s new anti-harassment workplace standards, the sooner they can be held accountable for bullying and harassment. Regardless of the postponement allowed by SB 778, it is in every companies best interest to help create an environment where your employees feel safe and can focus on being productive.