Governor signs new California sexual harassment laws in 2018

New legislation places significant responsibilities on some state employers.

The state of California is known for its strong legal protections for employees. In this time of #MeToo, the 2018 state legislature passed several new laws that deal with various aspects of sexual harassment in the workplace and that the governor signed into law by his September 30, 2018, deadline.

Information about some of these new laws follows.

Sexual harassment training expansion: S.B. 1343

Currently, state employers employing at least 50 people must conduct sexual harassment training for supervisory and managerial staff at least every two years and within six months of starting in these positions.

The new law will expand this training requirement significantly to include employers of at least five people, counting those people that are seasonal or temporary workers. In addition to training supervisors and managers, covered employers will also need to provide a minimum of one hour of sexual harassment training to all employees every two years.

The new training requirements take effect January 1, 2020, giving employers time to prepare for this new responsibility. The Department of Fair Employment and Housing or DFEH must provide online training classes on the subject.

Secret settlement ban: S.B. 820

Beginning with settlement agreements of sexual harassment claims and lawsuits signed in 2019, any provisions that require that the terms must remain confidential will be null and void and not enforceable. The legislative history of the bill notes that lawmakers do not want the identity of perpetrators kept secret in an attempt to protect potential victims.

The parties may still agree to keep the name of the victim (except for an employee of a government agency or official) and the settlement amount confidential, however. No court may enter an order that conflicts with these statutory provisions.

We recently published an article that provides more details about S.B. 820.

No restrictions on testimony: A.B. 3109

Similarly, this law will make clauses in settlement agreements or employment contracts unenforceable that would attempt to forbid an employee from testifying in a legal proceeding concerning an allegation of sexual harassment or criminal conduct.

Sexual harassment lawsuit restrictions: S.B. 1300

This bill, effective January 1, 2019, is a complex, lengthy piece of legislation that touches on many employment issues. Of particular importance, the law states that "[h]arassment cases are rarely appropriate for disposition on summary judgment," a provision that may result in more cases surviving summary judgment and going to trial. The law mentions specifically that cases alleging hostile working environments "involve issues 'not determinable on paper.'" (The law quotes a state appellate court decision it is affirming.)

Seek legal guidance

State employers should seek legal advice from lawyer up to date on state law developments for guidance on how to be ready to comply when the new laws take effect. Likewise, any employee who believes that his or her employer may not be in compliance should speak to an employment attorney for advice about potential legal remedies.

The lawyers of Bononi Law Group, LLP, in Pasadena advise California employers about compliance with state and federal workplace laws and represent employees seeking legal remedies for violation of their state and federal rights in their jobs.