I’ve been doing a lot of harassment prevention training lately.

One reason is because it is an odd year (2019), and the requirement to train managers & supervisors started in 2005, so many California businesses are on an odd year cycle for in-person training (with online options in between).

Another reason is that such training is top of mind for many employers given the new #MeToo inspired laws (summarized succinctly here), including a need to train all employees, not just managers and supervisors, by January 1, 2020.

One theme in these trainings is that things that used to be okay just aren’t anymore.  There is a spotlight on these issues right now.  And as the news shows us, behaviors from many years ago are coming back to haunt people today.

One of those behaviors involves dating (or hooking up) with work colleagues.  Lots of people have done it.  Many still do.  But in today’s world, that is pretty darn risky behavior.

A question I often pose in training is “can you have a consensual relationship with your boss?”  Of course it feels consensual to the supervisor, and may feel consensual to the subordinate at the time…. but what about later?  How can the supervisor prove it was consensual if the subordinate later changes their mind?

For Valentine’s Day, we lawyers can consider a love contract, a document that both parties sign to indicate the relationship is voluntary, consensual, and if it ever is not, the subordinate has avenues for raising any concerns.  This may serve as a deterrent, but it is not a perfect solution.

What is?  Well, here is where we get to the maxims:

  • Don’t get your meat where you get your bread
  • Don’t fish off the company pier
  • Don’t dip your pen in company ink
  • And don’t [expletive] where you eat

Happy harassment-free Valentine’s Day!

No lazy Sunday for Governor Jerry Brown!  Today he signed four new bills into law, taking major steps to combat sexual harassment in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Here is a brief overview of the new laws and what they mean for California employers:

  • Senate Bill 820 prohibits non-disclosure provisions in settlement agreements related to civil or administrative complaints of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and workplace harassment or discrimination based on sex. The bill expressly authorizes provisions that (i) preclude the disclosure of the amount paid in settlement and (ii) protect the claimant’s identity and any fact that could reveal the identity, so long as the claimant has requested anonymity and the opposing party is not a government agency or public official. Settlement agreements signed after January 1, 2019 should be review by counsel to ensure compliance with the new restrictions.
  • Senate Bill 1300 significantly expands liability under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”).  The law lowers the burden of proof to establish harassment and provides stricter guidance on what constitutes “severe or pervasive” conduct that rises to the level of unlawful harassment (e.g. rejecting the “stray remark” doctrine that previously required more than one offensive remark to succeed on a claim).  It expands FEHA protection to any harassment by contractors, rather than just sex harassment.  It denies a prevailing defendant from being awarded attorney’s fees and costs unless the court finds the action was frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless. This bill also prohibits release of claims under FEHA in exchange for a raise or a bonus or as a condition of employment or continued employment, but presumably not in separation agreements.  These changes take effect at the start of the new year and we will monitor interpretations or guidance of these new and expansive provisions.
  • Senate Bill 1343 expands the requirements relating to sexual harassment training. Current law requires all employers with 50 or more employees to provide two hours of sexual harassment prevention training only to supervisors. The new law now mandates training for all employers with five or more employees and becomes effective in 2020.  In addition, employers must ensure similar training in multiple languages for all workers so they know what sexual harassment is and what their rights are under the law.
  • While not employment-related, Senate Bill 826 requires public companies based in California to have at least one woman on their board of directors by the end of next year. The requirement rises to two female board members by 2021 if the company has five directors, or to three if the company has six or more directors.

Governor Brown did veto one of the most high-profile sexual harassment measure of the year, Assembly Bill 3080, which would have banned mandatory arbitration agreements.  Brown vetoed similar legislation on 2015 and the law, if passed, likely would have faced challenges that it was preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act.

Stay tuned for more in-depth coverage of these new laws.