Raft of Sexual Harassment Laws Puts Pressure on Employers

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California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law a number of bills that will drastically change the landscape for employers trying to resolve sexual harassment and discrimination claims. Brown signed three bills that will make it easier for workers to bring claims of harassment and discrimination in the workplace, and curtail the ability of employers to resolve the claims with motions for summary judgment. They will also prohibit non-disclosure agreements, and will expand the number of employers that will be required to provide anti-sexual-harassment training to their staff. Any organization with employees needs to be aware of the new laws to avoid any future legal quagmires, as failing to comply with some of these laws could drastically increase an employer’s liability. Here’s a rundown of what you need to know:

SB 1343

Existing law requires that organizations with 50 or more employees provide two hours of sexual-harassment prevention training to supervisors every two years. This was mandated two years ago under another piece of legislation, AB 1825. The new law expands this training requirement to all employers in California with five or more employees. But SB 1343 goes beyond requiring only supervisors to be trained by also requiring that it must be provided to all employees every two years.

SB 820

This law takes effect Jan. 1, 2019 and will bar California employers from entering into settlement agreements that prevent the disclosure of information regarding:
  • Acts of sexual assault;
  • Acts of sexual harassment;
  • Acts of workplace sexual harassment;
  • Acts of workplace sex discrimination;
  • The failure to prevent acts of workplace sexual harassment or sex discrimination; and
  • Retaliation against a person for reporting sexual harassment or sex discrimination.
The big issue employers will need to watch out for, according to experts, is that the new law could actually keep the employer and employee from reaching resolutions for disputes.

SB 1300

This new law bars other nondisclosure agreements related to claims of sexual harassment, and also overturns prior court rulings that have limited harassment lawsuits. SB 1300 bars employers from requiring an employee to sign a release of a Fair Employment and Housing Act claim or signing a non-disparagement or nondisclosure agreement related to unlawful acts in the workplace, including sexual harassment in exchange for a raise or bonus, or as a condition of employment or continued employment. One good thing, the prohibition does not apply a “negotiated settlement agreement to resolve an underlying claim under [FEHA].” The new law will also make it more difficult to collect attorneys’ fees and costs. Now they will only be granted if the court finds that the action was “frivolous, unreasonable, or totally without foundation when brought or the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly became so.” SB 1300 also expands current law under which an employer can be held responsible for sexual harassment committed by non-employees like clients, vendors and other third parties, if the employer knew or should have known of the conduct and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action. Now employers can be held responsible for all forms of unlawful harassment committed by non-employees, not just sexual harassment. The law also includes an unusual section on “legislative intent,” which is language that was designed as guidance for the courts but is not legally binding. It includes:
  • Single incident grounds for a claim – The new law declares that a “single incident of harassing conduct is sufficient to create a triable issue regarding the existence of a hostile work environment.”
  • Stray remarks doctrine – Even a single discriminatory remark, even if not made directly in the context of an employment decision or uttered by a non-decision-maker, may be relevant and circumstantial evidence of discrimination.
  • Summary judgments – Harassment claims are “rarely appropriate for summary judgment.” According to the law, summary judgment is a motion usually filed by the defendant to have the case thrown out before trial.


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