New Sexual Harassment Training Mandate
A new sexual harassment training mandate is now effective in California. Signed on September 29, 2016, AB 1661 mandates local agencies to train officers and elected officials in sexual harassment prevention. Local agencies are any “city, county, city and county, charter city, charter county, charter city and county, or special district” in California. AB 1661 requires only compensated, elected officials or members of legislative bodies to be trained. However, a local agency can require all employees to receive sexual harassment education and training.
The provisions largely track AB 1825, the 2004 law that requires California employers of 50 or more employees to train supervisors about sexual harassment. Most noteworthy:
(*) Training Frequency. Officials must be trained “within the first six months of taking office or commencing employment, and every two years thereafter.” This language tracks language found in AB 1825.
(*) Content Requirements. While AB 1661 requires training to describe state and federal legal language, it also calls for instruction on “practical examples” that prevent sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. While AB 1661 does not define “practical examples,” they are most evident in real case situations, such as an employer firing a sexual harassment victim (wrongfully) or failing to prevent and remedy sexual harassment.
(*) Providers. Whoever gives the training must provide proof of participation and have “knowledge and expertise” in the prevention of sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.
(*) Recordkeeping. The local agency must keep records, for at least five years, of (1) the date the official completed training; and (2) who provided the training.
(*) Overlap. Training that meets AB 1825’s requirements will meet AB 1661.
The California legislature found many reasons for passing AB 1661. Some cities believed that officials did not count as “supervisors” and thus were exempt from AB 1825’s provisions. Consequently, some did not provide training. Maybe they should have. The former mayor of the city of San Diego faced multiple allegations of sexual harassment by employees and faced scrutiny for not taking sexual harassment training until after allegations were made public. The City footed the mayor’s bill. Other allegations against public officials arose in Sacramento and West Hollywood.
The bill asserts that “all employees should have the same opportunity to work in a safe and harassment-free environment,” yet a lot of work still needs to be done. When done right, training and education can teach employees practical tools and prosocial behavior that helps reduce bias, harassment, and discrimination in the workplace. If that same training can also offer employers and local agencies the ability to keep records and track performance to meet legal requirements of both AB 1825 and AB 1661, efficiency and effectiveness can be accomplished simultaneously.