California not only leads the country in manufacturing, it’s also setting the standard for workplace harassment avoidance and prevention training. The Golden State is one of just three states (including Maine and Connecticut) requiring the training, and imposing serious consequences if not complied with properly. For some small and medium-sized manufacturers, the regulations undoubtedly raise some questions.
What Is Harassment?
This may seem like a silly question, but too often people think only of verbal or physical sexual harassment between people of the opposite gender, especially in light of recent scandals making the news. However, workplace harassment takes on many forms, and can also include offensive jokes, slurs, name-calling, ridicule, offensive pictures, stalking, bullying, cyberbullying, and more. Harassers can be bosses, subordinates, co-workers, and even non-employees such as a company vendor.
The victims of harassment can differ greatly, and they may be targeted due to any of the following:
- Gender or gender identity
- Sexual orientation
- Mental disability
- Physical disability or conditions including pregnancy
Harassment Cases Can Cost Millions
The manufacturing industry ranks third out of twenty industries for total sexual harassment charges filed, at almost 12 percent. “Because manufacturing jobs such as machinists and craft workers have long been male-dominated, women who enter the field may lack power or be seen as outsiders, thus making them targets for harassment,” says Jocelyn Frye of the Center for American Progress (CAP).
But again, harassment has a much broader definition. In 2016 alone, over 2,000 allegations of harassment were made, leading to $482 million in settlements, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Some of the biggest cases and largest awards were in California and were not due to sexual harassment; a quick internet search uncovers countless cases, including:
- $18 million awarded for age discrimination (2016)
- $185 million awarded for gender and pregnancy discrimination (2014)
- $21 million awarded for disability discrimination (2014)
How are employees being awarded such high figures? Employees and applicants (yes, harassment charges can also be filed based on the hiring process or interview) who successfully prove harassment, discrimination, or bullying stand to recover some or all of the following, and these numbers can add up quickly:
- Back pay
- Lost fringe benefits
- Attorney’s fee
- Compensatory damages (money awarded for emotional distress, etc.)
- Punitive damages (money awarded to deter the defendant and others like them from engaging in this type of behavior again)
California Assembly Bill 1825 Regulations
Covered under the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, AB 1825 states that employers must “take reasonable steps to prevent and correct wrongful behavior in the workplace.” Some of the ways the bill enforces this include the following requirements:
- Companies with 50 or more employees must hold training sessions every 18-24 months.
- Employees promoted to leadership roles must complete training within six months of their promotion.
- Contractor resources must also attend Harassment Avoidance Training.
- Certain topics must be covered.
- And most importantly, sessions MUST be interactive.
Even if your company has less than 50 employees, your obligation to address workplace harassment should be no different; while training may not be a requirement, it's a good business practice—and as strong an insurance policy.
Complying With AB 1825 Regulations
While many small and medium-sized manufacturers already have some harassment training or guidelines in place, AB 1825 maintains that compliant employers must:
- Establish policies that comply with federal and state laws.
- Invest time and money into diversity training and awareness.
- Immediately report harassment or discrimination complaints they witness or are made aware of no matter how trivial they may seem.
- Maintain confidentiality and respond to all harassment claims in a discreet manner.
- Not discourage or threaten employees who decide to seek the assistance of a federal or state human rights employee rights agency or commission.
Additional Steps to Consider
Today, harassment in the workplace is dominating conversation (in fact, internet searches for harassment have recently jumped over 565 percent). So what can be done? In addition to complying with AB 1825 regulations, here are three more steps you can take now to help make your factory less prone to harassment.
- Hold team-building events. Fun activities help people view each other in a different light. It gets them to look past their differences and instead focus on working together. It also fosters communication, which is often lacking in more hostile environments. An added bonus? Team building events inspire innovation and creativity, and can boost overall job performance!
- Diversify the factory floor. By hiring and promoting qualified women and minorities, power dynamics can become more balanced and result in fewer harassment claims (for example, while there are some powerful women in manufacturing, just 29 percent of employees are female).
- Create a common definition. Employees may interpret what constitutes harassment in different ways, so it’s important to get everyone on the same page. Create a defining document that all must sign and adhere to. Examples include:
- Making off-color jokes or gestures
- Transmitting inappropriate emails
- Displaying or wearing inappropriate clothing, objects, pictures, or posters
- Playing sexually-suggestive or racially-insensitive music
- Non-work related bodily contact outside of the handshake and high-fiving variety
- Repeated requests for a date or propositioning for sex
With California leading the way in harassment training and an increasing focus on harassment in the workplace across the country, now is the time to be sure you have policies and plans in place so that your employees—and your manufacturing business—don’t become the next victim.