No One Likes A Bully: New California Law Mandates Anti-Bullying Training In The Workplace

On September 9, 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB-2053, which mandates that certain California employers provide workforce bullying training in addition to already-required sexual harassment training and education.  As a result, many California employers need to be prepared to expand their training programs to address abusive conduct beginning on January 1, 2015.

Currently, California Government Code section 12950.1 requires that employers with 50 or more employees provide two hours of interactive sexual harassment training and education to supervisory employees every two years.  Under AB-2053, these same employers must “include prevention of abusive conduct as a component of the training.”  The bill defines “abusive conduct” as conduct “with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests.”  The bill also gives examples of what constitutes abusive conduct, including repeated use of insults, derogatory remarks, and epithets; threatening, intimidating or humiliating verbal or physical conduct; and the gratuitous sabotage of a person’s work performance. The bill excludes a single act from the definition of abusive conduct unless it is especially severe and egregious.  The new law is limited to the type of training employers need to provide, and does not create the ability for an individual to sue for bullying, in general.  Failure to provide training for abusive conduct can subject employers to an order by the Fair Employment and Housing Commission requiring compliance.

Given the bill’s broad language, California employers need to be ready to train their employees against not only illegal harassment and discrimination, but also against bullying in the workplace more broadly.  Many employers already extend their harassment prevention training to include broader types of inappropriate conduct such as that described above.  Employers with a California presence should evaluate whether their training programs comply with the new anti-bullying requirements.  Multi-state employers that offer narrower harassment training may also want to adopt this broader approach to ensure consistent training company-wide.  Employers should consider consulting with counsel over how to integrate anti-bullying training into their current training programs.