California employers must provide sexual harassment prevention training to employees, including contractors and unpaid staff.
California lawmakers take allegations of workplace sexual harassment seriously. To prevent such misconduct, they have put into place several steps that employers must undertake.
Who has to comply?
California’s mandate that employers provide sexual harassment prevention training is a longstanding requirement. The Golden State has required sexual harassment prevention training since 2005. But in 2019, lawmakers made substantial changes.
Before 2019, only large employers had to provide the training. After 2019, the law was revised so that smaller businesses also had to provide the training. In a nutshell, pretty much all Golden State’s employers must provide sexual harassment prevention training.
Sexual harassment training must be provided to all California employees and contractors, including unpaid interns and volunteers.
California employers with 5 or more employees must provide state-mandated sexual harassment prevention training. In determining the employee count necessary for compliance with the law, “employee” is a broad term. Employees include:
- Full-time, part-time, and temporary workers
- Unpaid interns
- Unpaid volunteers
- Independent contractors
The employee count should also include those who work outside the state. However, employees outside of California don’t need to complete the state-mandated training.
Sexual harassment under California law
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) defines sexual harassment as “unwanted sexual advances or visual, verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” Sex-based harassment is forbidden under California law.
Federal law also prohibits sexual harassment. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids discrimination and harassment on several grounds, including gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
The purpose of sexual harassment training
According to the regulations on the training requirements, the training has several goals:
- Assisting Golden State employers in changing workplace behaviors that create or contribute to sex-based harassment
- Providing workers with knowledge of the negative effects that abusive conduct has on the workplace
- Encouraging employees to prevent and respond to incidents of bias
- Putting mechanisms into place that quickly address and correct wrongful behavior
81% of women and 43% of men report experiencing workplace harassment.
Lawmakers have also noted that workers are still subject to misconduct despite greater awareness of workplace sexual harassment and the harm it causes. According to a 2019 survey on sexual harassment, 81% of women and 43% of men reported that they had experienced workplace harassment.
What to include in sexual harassment training
California law spells out several training requirements. Sexual harassment training must include:
- The definition of sexual harassment under California and federal law.
- The definition of abusive conduct and its effects on the victim and the workplace, including an explanation of the potential for reduced productivity and morale.
- An explanation of the conduct that is viewed as sexual harassment.
- Practical examples that illustrate harassment. The examples can be taken from “case law, news and media accounts.”
- The elements of an effective anti-harassment policy.
- How to prevent unlawful employment harassment and retaliation.
- How to file a complaint, including an explanation of the person victims should contact to report the alleged harassment.
- An explanation that the complaint process offers only limited confidentiality.
- The measures employers should adopt to correct allegations of harassing behavior.
- A supervisor’s obligation to report harassment.
- How to handle instances when a harassment accusation is made against a supervisor.
- Resources for victims of unlawful harassment.
- The remedies available to harassment victims in civil legal actions.
- Potential employer and individual liability.
The training must also include measures to enhance the effectiveness of the training, including questions, skill-building activities, and hypothetical scenarios.
Length of California’s sexual harassment training
Supervisors must receive 2 hours of classroom, webinar, or e-learning training. Employees must receive 1 hour of training.
Employee compensation for training
Employees must compensate workers for the time spent undergoing the training.
Employers must train new employees within 6 months of their hire date. After that, retraining must happen every 2 years.
New supervisors must receive sexual harassment training within 6 months of assuming their supervisory position. After that, they must be retrained once every 2 years.
Permanent employees must receive retraining on sexual harassment prevention every 2 years.
Seasonal, temporary, or other employees hired to work for less than 6 months must be trained within 30 calendar days after the hire date or within 100 hours worked, whichever comes first.
Does the training have to be in-person?
Sexual harassment training sessions may take place in the form of a live classroom presentation, a live webinar, or an interactive e-learning course.
They can be held either in an individual or group setting.
Sexual harassment training documentation
Employers must keep records of the training it has provided to their employees for at least two years.
The record must include:
- The names of the employees who participated in the training.
- The date the training took place.
- The sign-in sheet.
- A copy of all certificates of completion.
- The type of training.
- A copy of the materials used in training, whether written or recorded.
- The name of the provider of the training.
According to the California Chamber of Commerce, employers often fail to:
- Provide training for California-based off-site employees
- Repeat training at the 2-year mark
Employer liability for not providing training
California law doesn’t allow for monetary penalties in instances where employers don’t comply with the sexual harassment prevention training requirement. However, DFEH can request a court order seeking that companies comply. According to the DFEH, if a business violates the law, they “will work with employers to obtain compliance with the law.”
In addition, if employers fail to comply with the training requirement, it can be used in a lawsuit to show that the employer did not reasonably attempt to prevent or correct the alleged sexual harassment.
California employers have a legal obligation to take reasonable steps to prevent workplace harassment and to promptly correct harassment if it occurs. Not providing the training can undercut an employer’s defense if they file a lawsuit.
Other sexual harassment prevention requirements
In addition to the sexual harassment prevention training, employers must also comply with other state mandates aimed at preventing sexual harassment:
- California employers must provide workers with a fact sheet and put up a poster on sexual harassment developed by DFEH.
- Employers must also develop and provide employees with a written discrimination, harassment, and retaliation prevention policy. Employers must distribute the policy to ensure every employee gets a copy and understands it.
State statutes requiring sexual harassment prevention training
Employers do not need to provide sexual harassment prevention training under federal law. However, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces the nation’s laws on workplace discrimination, has issued guidelines recommending that employers provide harassment prevention training to employees. The federal agency also recommends that the training be “reinforced on a regular basis.”
At present, only a few states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, and New York — require that employees undergo sexual harassment prevention training, according to HR Dive. Only three cities — the District of Columbia, Chicago, and New York City — require sexual harassment prevention training.
DFEH provides an online training course on preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.
Zenefits also provides a source of training.
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Final thoughts on sexual harassment training
Sexual harassment can lead to a demoralized workforce and lost productivity. Therefore, providing sexual harassment prevention training is a best practice. An employer who provides such training can create and protect a strong workplace culture and minimize the damage caused by lawsuits.