Among their legal and compliance obligations, California's small and medium-sized manufacturers must conduct periodic harassment avoidance training for their employees. While they are mandatory under California State Bill (SB) 1343, these training sessions are also essential for building a positive workplace where employees feel welcome and safe.
This blog will break down everything you need to know to stay in compliance with the law.
What Is Harassment Avoidance Training?
Harassment avoidance training refers to courses that educate managers and employees on how to create a healthy and supportive work environment free from any “unwelcome conduct.” Training sessions generally consist of:
- How to recognize signs or incidents of harassment
- Example scenarios and situations (e.g., videos, roleplaying)
- Guidance for managers on how to resolve situations (e.g., meeting with individuals, documenting actions)
- Penalties for harassment (e.g., legal, financial)
What Constitutes Harassment?
Actions that constitute harassment fall into broad categories (and subsets), but they all generally involve behavior contributing to hostile interactions and work environments. Often, people associate it with sexual harassment, although that is only one type. Per the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), this behavior may target characteristics such as an individual’s:
- Race or ethnicity
But these are not exhaustive categories. Discrimination based on a person’s identity is not a required condition. General instances of bullying, stalking, or cyberbullying are also considered to be forms of harassment.
Furthermore, the EEOC identifies unlawful harassment as follows:
- “Enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment.”
- “The conduct is enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”
It's important to remember that some incidents of harassment may result from unintentional misunderstandings, like cultural differences. These cases may require mediation as much as corrective action.
For example, if one employee comes from a large family that regularly holds loud get-togethers, they may not recognize that coworkers perceive some of their behavior (e.g., raised voice) as aggressive or confrontational. In this case, the solution may be as simple as sitting down with the affected parties and helping them understand the different perspectives while identifying how to curtail specific behaviors. However, if left unaddressed, these scenarios can quickly escalate.
Particularly within a state like California, which benefits from its diversity, employers need to be aware of unintentional conflicts that might arise from cultural differences.
Why Is Harassment Avoidance Training Important?
First and foremost, workplace harassment training is important for fostering a healthy and welcoming workplace that promotes equality and inclusivity. Employees who feel protected against harassment will be significantly more invested in the company's culture and success.
The benefits of providing this training includes:
- Compliance: Per California SB 1343, any workplace with five or more employees must conduct these training sessions at least once every 24 months and within the first six months for newly promoted managers. Supervisory staff must undergo two hours of training, and one hour for all other employees. The consequences for non-compliance may include fines, court orders, or greater liability in the event of a lawsuit.
- Minimize claims: Employers are responsible for creating a healthy and productive work environment, and as such, employees will find them culpable if they experience the opposite. Without harassment avoidance training, conflicts are more likely to occur, leading to more HR claims requiring resolution and threats to employee retention.
- Lawful termination: Harassment avoidance training will provide supervisors with materials for guiding corrective action, like checklists and recommendations. Hopefully, concerted corrective action helps the employee see the issue. But if training sessions and discussions don't solve the problem, they also provide a roadmap and documentation for legally compliant termination.
Harmful Impacts of Harassment in the Workplace
When harassment occurs in the workplace, it creates tension, disruption, and conflict that threatens employees’ mental health and productivity. It can also quickly lead to retention issues if the situation is not taken care of — or it might even result in legal action against the business or the perpetrator.
Regardless of the severity, harassment will likely impact employees' work. And victims will feel isolated if reporting and corrective action procedures aren't followed (or absent altogether). As a result, they could become increasingly less invested in their work and employer relationships. Moreover, coworkers who witness the harassment may feel that they won't be supported if it happens to them.
A meta-analysis of research conducted on general and sexual workplace harassment found that such behavior can negatively impact job involvement, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment. Other implications of workplace harassment are tardiness, absenteeism, sick leave, health compensation claims, intended departures, and stress-related health problems, all resulting in financial implications for the company.
If the harassment continues or escalates, employees may simply look elsewhere for a new job. Given the tight job market, many employers can’t afford to suffer increased turnover due to something that can — and should — be dealt with.
Harassment Training Legislation: SB 1343 and AB 1825
Although California instituted mandatory harassment training with AB 1825 in 2010, many small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) may not be aware of new compliance requirements under California Senate Bill 1343. Passed in 2020, the new law was written to better support both employees and employers.
SB 1343 expands the pool of businesses required to provide training, now including any business with five or more employees.Still, many employers are beginning to seek out training programs on their own for a number of reasons, including:
- Common discourse highlighting workplace harassment
- Minimized legal and financial culpability
- Improved workplace culture
SB 1343 Requirements
Aside from expanding which businesses must comply, SB 1343 mandates the following training requirements for employees, based on their roles:
- Supervisors: Must complete two hours of anti-harassment training within the first six months of their hiring date or promotion and again every 18-24 months.
- Non-Supervisors: Must complete one hour of anti-harassment training every 18-24 months.
Differences Between SB 1343 and AB 1825
Under AB 1825, employers were only required to implement harassment avoidance training if their staff numbered 50 or more. Moreover, the training only needed to be provided to supervisors and managerial roles.
SB 1343 changes this significantly. As a result, many employers may not be prepared for compliance, especially since the threshold was dropped.
Furthermore, there’s been an expansion of who must participate in sessions as well as the session’s content. Now, all employees and multiple types of harassment (e.g., cyberbullying) are covered, with separate training provided for supervisors and non-supervisors. This introduces a larger financial and time burden for employers to navigate. For those struggling with their compliance obligations, turning to outside resources like CMTC can be very helpful – for example, CMTC offers no-cost, virtual harassment avoidance training sessions facilitated by certified trainers.
Requirements for a Successful Harassment Training Program
The requirements for California employers are clear. All training must include the following elements:
1. Must Cover Required Curriculum
Certain topics are required under California law. One of the most important topics the curriculum must include is an overview of all “protected classes.” Protected classes refer to demographic memberships or elements of individuals’ identities that are explicitly protected under federal and state laws from harassment or discrimination. According to the CA State Senate, they include:
- Age (over 40)
- Biological sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and related medical conditions)
- Disabilities (either mental or physical and including HIV/AIDS)
- Ethnicity, race, or color
- Gender identity or expression
- Genetic information
- Marital status
- Medical conditions (including genetic characteristics and current or past diagnoses of cancer)
- Military or veteran status
- National origin (including languages and the possession of driver’s licenses that are issued to persons unable to demonstrate their presence in the United States is authorized under federal law)
- Religion (beliefs as well as religious dress and grooming practices)
- Request for family care leave
- Request for leave for an employee’s own serious health condition
- Request for Pregnancy Disability Leave
- Retaliation for reporting patient abuse in tax-supported institutions
- Sexual orientation
The training will not be valid without covering these protected classes and other stipulated topics, such as bystander intervention and your company’s harassment policy. That said, SMMs will want to bring in certified trainers who can provide sessions that guarantee all compliance requirements are met.
2. Must Be Interactive
Employee harassment training requirements cannot be met merely by watching a video and returning to work. California's Government Code 12950.1. (a) requires that sessions be interactive, with your employees actively participating.
Interactive participation can be achieved in a few ways, such as:
- Open discussions with participants expressing their thoughts, viewpoints, and experiences (if held in person)
- Active chat windows for discussion and questions (if held virtually)
- Polling and responding to example scenarios
- Roleplaying scenarios
Following each component of the training, participants should be given a brief moment to reflect on what was covered and then engage in interactive elements. For example, questions like, "Can someone be both the victim and perpetrator of harassment?" should be used to foster open discussions among the group.
3. Should Include Additional Training for Managers
Managers and supervisors must receive training that prepares them for how to respond to harassment when they see it occur or when incidents are brought to their attention.
These topics should include how to:
- Handle the conversation when someone approaches them with complaints or concerns
- Initiate the process as a witness
- Advocate for and represent the accuser when speaking with upper management
- Approach the accused and begin coaching them on their behavior
- Document the initial interaction and following corrective action
- Recognize if legal action is necessary and pursue it
Responding to harassment is a challenging circumstance many supervisors and managers have never experienced. Training needs to prepare them for it and provide materials they can refer back to when trying to resolve the situation.
4. Leader Must Be a Certified Harassment Avoidance Trainer
All harassment avoidance training must be conducted by qualified professionals for the sessions to be considered legally compliant. In larger organizations, HR professionals may have the requisite qualifications or years of experience, but managers or owners cannot run them by default.
Most SMMs will need to bring in an outside trainer or partner with an organization that can provide one.
5. Should Include Discussion of Financial and Compliance Risk to Companies
To help reinforce the severity of harassment in the workplace, training sessions should also include information about penalties as well as the legal and financial risk that companies face. In severe cases, a harassment lawsuit may be financially damaging enough to shut down the business and cost everyone their job.
Some single-plaintiff lawsuits in California are worth reviewing, including:
- $185 million for a gender and pregnancy discrimination lawsuit
- $167 million for a sexual harassment and retaliation case
- $26 million for an age discrimination claim
- $18 million for an age discrimination lawsuit
Training should also cover related laws and regulations, such as the Silence No More Act, which bans secret settlements from resolving harassment and discrimination suits.
Reach Out to CMTC for Harassment Avoidance Training
To help ensure all California manufacturers are compliant, CMTC is offering no-cost “live” virtual training sessions facilitated by certified Harassment Avoidance Trainers. Be sure to avoid penalties, fines, lawsuits, and claims – click here to sign up for a no-cost session today.
Need additional assistance? Unlike other HR programs, CMTC’s HR solutions are tailored specifically for small and medium-sized manufacturers in California. This means that each of our experts is well-versed in California’s complex and ever-evolving hiring and employment laws, and can ensure your organization is practicing California-specific manufacturing compliance. No matter what HR challenge your manufacturing organization needs assistance with, CMTC has the solution! Reach out to us today.
About the Author
Jeri Summer is Senior Manager of HR, Administration, & Recruitment at CMTC. She has over 25 years of strategic design and functional implementation experience in Recruitment, Human Resources, and HR Business Process Outsourcing services. As part of a global Human Resources consulting firm, she provided leadership to a team of 500 global recruiting professionals that produced 100,000 hires annually. Prior to joining CMTC, Jeri held senior leadership positions at Aon-Hewitt and The Right Thing/ADP, providing direction to the national Human Resources Outsourcing teams in recruiting services and human capital management.
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