Workplace Bullying and Treatment of Unpaid Interns Subject of Two New California Laws
Governor Brown signed two new laws in September that add to California’s already robust regime of workplace anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws. Applying to bullying and the treatment of unpaid interns, the new laws impose additional obligations on employers and could expose them to additional liability for improper behavior by supervisory employees.
AB 2053: Training About “Abusive Conduct”
Effective January 1, 215, AB 2053 amends the provisions of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) relating to the sexual harassment training that employers are currently required to provide under AB 1825. Passed in 2007, AB 1825 mandates that companies of 50 employees or more, independent contractors, the state (including political/civil subdivisions), and cities must provide supervisors with 2 hours of harassment prevention training every 2 years on the subjects and in the manner specified in that law.
AB 2053 now requires that such training include “prevention of abusive conduct as a component of the training.” As defined in the law, “abusive conduct” is:
conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests. Abusive conduct may include repeated infliction of verbal abuse, such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets, verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating, or the gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance.
Clearly, “abusive conduct” as described in the new law is a euphemism for “bullying.” Employers who are required to provide AB 1825 training need to ensure that this new component is part of the program starting next year.
AB 1443: Discrimination Against Unpaid Interns
Also effective on January 1, 2015, AB 1443 is designed to protect the ever-growing ranks of unpaid interns from prohibited discrimination under the FEHA. Discrimination in the selection, termination, training, or other terms or treatment of an unpaid intern or other person in a limited duration program to provide unpaid work experience, or the harassment of an unpaid intern or volunteer based on any of the any of the protected characteristics that apply to job applicants or employees (i.e., race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, or military and veteran status) will now be prohibited.
California employers need to make sure that their employees are aware that interns must be treated the same as employees when it comes to discrimination and harassment come January 1.
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