Posts

Fall 2018 New Employment Laws – Part 4 – Sexual Harassment

New Sexual Harassment Laws

Over the past year, many prominent entertainers and public figures have been brought down by accusations of sexual misconduct. The #MeToo movement changed our culture, bringing to light issues of sexual harassment and assault left in the dark for years. The movement reached the California Legislature, who passed many new sexual harassment laws this year expanding employee protections and increasing employer liability. There is also a new requirement for gender representation on corporate boards.  Some changes are narrowly targeted, while others impact most or all California businesses. All will have a major impact on California employers and employees.

Broad New Sexual Harassment Protections

Defamation Protection: AB 2770 protects people who report sexual harassment from libel or defamation suits. It exempts both an employee’s credible reports of sexual harassment and an employer’s communications about these reports from claims of defamation. It also makes the law clear that past employers can say whether they would rehire an employee and whether that determination is based on claims of sexual harassment when asked for references. Accusations based on malice or lacking credibility are exempt from this protection.

Confidentiality Clauses and Nondisclosure Agreements: The Legislature limited confidentiality clauses in certain settlement agreements. In lawsuits regarding sexual assault, sexual harassment, or any other sex-based harassment (such as in the workplace or housing), settlement agreements can no longer require confidentiality. SB 820 provides an exception to keep victims’ identities secret, however. And AB 3109 prohibits any clauses in nondisclosure agreements that prevent people from testifying in court or administrative hearings about criminal conduct or sexual harassment. Both these provisions go into effect on January 1st, 2019.

Training: SB 1343 expands new sexual harassment prevention training to all employers with five or more employees. Going into effect on January 1st, 2020, all companies covered must provide two hours of training to supervisors and one hour of training to all other employees within six months of hire, and again every two years.

Training must contain information about “the federal and state statutory provisions concerning the prohibition against and the prevention and correction of sexual harassment and the remedies available to victims of sexual harassment in employment.” Temporary employees must be trained “within 30 calendar days after the hire date or within 100 hours worked, whichever occurs first” and temp agencies must perform this training. Employers with 50 or more employees are already required to provide this training.

SB 1300: The California Legislature made many broad changed to employment practices and sexual harassment laws with SB 1300. First, it prohibited employers from requiring employees waive rights to sue or make other claims under the  Fair Employment and Housing Act in exchange for a job, raise, or bonus. This prohibition also applies to non-disparagement agreements that prevent employees from talking about unlawful conduct in a workplace.

Second, the Legislaturemade businesses liable for any unlawful harassment of employees, interns,applicants, or contractors by non-employees “if the employer, or its agents orsupervisors, knows or should have known of the conduct and fails” to act.Essentially, “An entity shall take all reasonable steps to prevent harassmentfrom occurring” under its watch. Third, this law prevents defendants who win inFEHA lawsuits from being awarded fees and costs unless the suit is frivolous or ungrounded. 

Industry-Specific Sexual Harassment Changes

Not every change is so sweeping. Many new laws passed this year touch only certain sectors of the economy:

Talent Agencies: AB 2338 requires talentagencies in California to provide materials about “sexual harassmentprevention, retaliation, and reporting resources” and “nutrition and eatingdisorders” to adult artists in a language they understand. It also requiresminors and their legal guardians to receive sexual harassment preventiontraining before they receive an entertainment industry work permit. Talentagencies must keep three years of records as proof of training.

California Legislature: The Legislature triedto clean up its own workplace. AB 403 makes it a crime for legislators or theirstaff to interfere in a whistleblower’s disclosure of violations or retaliatesagainst them. SB 419 further protests legislative staff or lobbyists fromretaliation and requires the Legislature to keep complaint records for 12years.

Professionals: Current law makes professionals liable for sexual harassment in a professional relationship when it is difficult for the victim to end that relationship. SB 224 adds investors, elected officials, lobbyists, directors, and producers to this category, which also includes lawyers, doctors, social workers, real estate agents, bankers, and any“substantially similar” professional relationship setups.

Gender Representation

The Legislature also took steps toward requiring gender parity on corporate boards. SB 826 requires publicly heldcorporations based in California to have at least one female director on itsboard by the end of 2019. By the end of 2021, the requirement is bumped up totwo or three women depending on the board’s size. The CA Secretary of Statewill post the number of companies in compliance on its website, and can finethose who are not.

2018 was a big year for new sexual harassment and gender-related employment laws. It can be very confusing for employers to keep track of their requirements and employees to stay informed of their rights. If you have questions, contact Robert Nuddleman.

Provided by the Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C.

Written by J.T. Keane and edited by Robert E. Nuddleman

Feel free to suggest topics for the blog. We are happy to consider topics pertaining to general points of Labor and Employment Law. We cannot answer questions about specific situations or provide legal advice over the Internet. If you desire legal advice, you should contact an attorney.

Using this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. Using the Internet or this blog to communicate with the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Do not post confidential or time-sensitive information in this blog. The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. cannot guarantee the confidentiality of anything posted on this blog.

The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. represents employers and employees in a wide range of employment law matters. Much of his practice focuses on wage and hour issues, such as unpaid overtime, meal and rest break violations, designing or enforcing commission plans, and other wage-related claims. He also advises employers on how to avoid harassment and wrongful termination claims and represents employees who have been victims of unlawful discrimination, retaliation or harassment. The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. helps employers develop good employment policies, and helps employers and employees with disability accommodation issues.

The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. represents employees and businesses throughout Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area including Pleasanton, Oakland, San Ramon, Hayward, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Los Altos, San Jose, the South Bay Area, Campbell, Los Gatos, Cupertino, Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz, Saratoga, and Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Benito, Mendocino, and Calaveras counties.

New Sexual Harassment Protection for Legislative Staff

AB403 Protects Legislative Staff from Sexual Harassment Retaliation

Employers cannot retaliate against employees for engaging in protected activity. This includes reporting or participating in an investigation regarding sexual harassment, health and safety issues, patient safety, and other violations of the law. Governor Brown signed AB403 extending similar protections to legislative employees. I suspect AB403 found so much support due to the numerous reports of inappropriate conduct in our legislature.

AB403 defines “Legislative employee” as “an individual, other than a Member of either house of the Legislature, who is, or has been, employed by either house of the Legislature. ‘Legislative employee’ includes volunteers, interns, fellows, and applicants.” Legislative employees are protected from retaliation when making a protected disclosure.

“Protected disclosure” means a “communication by a legislative employee that is made in good faith alleging that a Member of the Legislature or legislative employee engaged in, or will engage in, activity that may constitute a violation of any law, including sexual harassment, or of a legislative code of conduct.” This includes a complaint protected by California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.

The protected disclosure can be made to a number of agencies or any “individual with authority over the legislative employee, or another legislative employee who has authority to investigate, discover, or correct the violation or noncompliance.”

So, an intern or volunteer can report concerns regarding inappropriate sexual harassment to his or her supervisor without fear of unlawful retaliation. The law is so important that it became effective when Governor Brown signed the bill on February 5, 2018.

AB403 has some unique features. Violators can be subject to $10,000 fine and imprisonment for up to a year. If the alleged victim brings a civil action and proves “by a preponderance of the evidence” t against a legislative employee,” the burden of proof then switches the allegedly offending party to demonstrate “by clear and convincing evidence that the alleged action would have occurred for legitimate, independent reasons even if the legislative employee had not made a protected disclosure.” A prevailing plaintiff can recover attorneys’ fees and punitive damages. Considering most claims against government entities and persons do not allow punitive damages, this last item is particularly significant.

Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman of Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C.

Feel free to suggest topics for the blog. We are happy to consider topics pertaining to general points of Labor and Employment Law. We cannot answer questions about specific situations or provide legal advice over the Internet. If you desire legal advice, you should contact an attorney.

Using this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. Using the Internet or this blog to communicate with the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Do not post confidential or time-sensitive information in this blog. The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. cannot guarantee the confidentiality of anything posted to this blog.

The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. represents employees and businesses throughout Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area including Pleasanton, Oakland, San Ramon, Hayward, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Los Altos, San Jose, the South Bay Area, Campbell, Los Gatos, Cupertino, Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz, Saratoga, and Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Benito, Mendocino, and Calaveras counties.