California Law Requiring Anti-Bullying Training in the Workplace Goes Into Effect in the New Year

TiUnderfoottle VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits harassment in the workplace, but only when the harassment is based on a protected characteristic, such as race or gender. But what if someone torments you because they don’t like your personality? Or you have a boss who constantly screams at you and everyone else in the office?

This type of bullying behavior is unfortunately not uncommon in the workplace. But there’s no federal law that makes it illegal or gives employees the right to hold their employers responsible for allowing it to take place. In the last decade, over 25 states have considered passing laws that protect employees from bullying in the workplace, regardless of whether the conduct is motivated by the person’s race, gender, or other protected characteristic. These efforts have been unsuccessful for the most part, until recently.

This year, California became the first state to pass a law that addresses workplace bullying in the private sector. Under the new law, which goes into effect on January 1, 2015, any employer who is required to provide sexual harassment training by law (those with 50 or more employees) must include a segment that addresses workplace bullying. Specifically, employers must train managers and supervisors on how to prevent “abusive conduct” in the workplace. Abusive conduct includes any verbal or physical conduct that the average person would find offensive, humiliating, intimidating, or an obstacle to performing his or her job. In general, there must be multiple instances of this type of behavior to qualify as abusive. However, a single act could qualify as abusive if it is especially severe or appalling.

While the California law takes an important step towards eliminating workplace bullying, it doesn’t go as far as some had hoped. Most notably, the law does not give employees the right to hold their employers responsible for workplace bullying. For example, if an employee was fired or quit because of workplace bullying, he or she would have no right to file a lawsuit or administrative claim against the employer.

In light of this new requirement, employers with 50 or more employees should make sure that their sexual harassment trainings include a discussion of what workplace bullying is and how managers and supervisors should respond to it. Given the effect that workplace bullying can have on productivity and employee morale, employers of all sizes should consider including policies in their Employee Handbooks to address and prevent workplace bullying. However, as of right now, this is not required by law.