Fight Back Against Workplace Bullying: It May Soon Be a Legal Obligation

You may be unaware that California has recently enacted a law entitled Assembly Bill 2053, requiring employers with 50 or more employees to train their supervisors on workplace bullying. Although this law does not create an outright cause of action for employees who have been the victims of an office bully, it is a step in that direction. As is often the trend, other states have picked up on California’s aggressive stance toward bullying and have begun considering similar legislation to curb the all too common practice of abusive conduct by supervisors and co-workers.

For many years, employers have educated themselves (and their employees) about the various harassment and discrimination laws at both the state and federal levels. However, only recently have studies shown that office bullying and abusive conduct are occurring at extremely high levels. That said, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is silent with respect to abusive managerial tactics and office bullying, and ignores the fact that this sort of behavior can be as damaging (if not more damaging) than the types of conduct the law prohibits (such as race and sex discrimination and harassment).

Bullying Creates a High Cost

You may be wondering what impact office bullying has on your workplace, especially given that it is likely not against the law at this time. Therefore, you may also be wondering why it might be worth the time and expense to conduct training courses to prevent this type of conduct when such courses may not be required by your state. The simple answer is 30-35% of United States employees report that they have been victims or witnesses of abusive workplace conduct. This amounts to millions of employees who may lose productivity or even seek to change jobs to avoid a bully that creates a hostile environment. This type of turnover is costly to a business. Therefore, conducting proactive training to avoid this type of conduct can have a positive impact on your bottom line.

What Types of Conduct Can be Considered Abusive?

California’s new law spells out a specific definition of abusive workplace conduct, but generally speaking any sorts of swear words and raised voices; belittling of employees; physical actions such as thrown paper; offensive or humiliating conduct; or attempts at sabotage of work (among other things) should be considered particularly risky behavior if they occur frequently at your office.

Syntrio’s Preventing Workplace Bullying training courses are specifically tailored to meet the needs of your business or industry, and cost-effectively train your managers and employees on what abusive conduct and bullying is, and how to spot and eliminate it before there is a problem. Syntrio’s workplace harassment training courses also cover workplace bullying

Syntrio is committed to helping businesses of all sizes eliminate abusive conduct and workplace bullying across the board, and therefore provides harassment in the workplace courses that are cognizant of the value of time to modern businesses.  Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about ourHR compliance courses and remember to follow us on TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance issues that may impact your company!

 

Healthy Workplace Laws: Get Ahead of the Curve

State legislatures around the country are contemplating (or have already enacted) legislation to curb the alarming amount of workplace bullying taking place in both public and private sector places of employment. While your state may not yet have taken steps to eliminate this harmful activity, you can be assured that the time is coming, and your business needs to do something about it. With that in mind, below is some background and statistics on workplace bullying, and how it can be avoided.

What is Workplace Bullying, and how is it Defined?

California recently answered this question for employers when it enacted Assembly Bill 2053, which amended the California law requiring bi-annual sexual harassment training to include a requirement that employers provide training on “abusive conduct.” The California law defines “abusive conduct” as follows:

[A]busive conduct means 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.

The California law sets out several examples of abusive conduct including:

• Repeated infliction of verbal abuse
• The use of insults and epithets
• Threats
• Verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening
• Gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance

In summary, in California (and soon across the country) it will likely be illegal to fail to treat co-workers or subordinates with the respect they deserve. While this may sound simple, the statistics are alarming.

Recent Survey Shows Majority of Employees Concerned with Workplace Bullying

According to a 2014 National Survey conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 27 percent of U.S. employees reported that they had experienced abusive conduct at work and 21% of U.S. employees claim they have witnessed abusive conduct of others at work. These numbers are simply too high, and evidence the legislative trend toward outlawing abusive conduct in the workplace across the country.

The 2014 survey also revealed most employees do not think that their employers do enough to address workplace bullying. Indeed, 25% of employees’ surveyed responded that employers deny bullying and harassing conduct takes place and fail to investigate complaints. Further, 16% responded employers discount bullying or describe it as non-serious, and another 15% responded that employers rationalize it by describing the bullying as innocent.

Perhaps most glaring, only 12% of employees’ surveyed found their employers took steps to eliminate bullying by creating policies and procedures and training employees on how to identify and prevent abusive conduct. Given the legislative trend toward requiring training to combat abusive conduct in the workplace it makes sense to get a jump on things by training managers and employees to treat each other with dignity and respect.

Syntrio’s Online Courses on the Prevention of Abusive Conduct are a Simple Solution for Businesses of all Sizes

Syntrio understands that managers and employees are busy. Nevertheless, it is extremely important to conduct online training to prevent workplace bullying not only to comply with the law, but also to protect your company reputation. More and more employees are claiming different types of harassment when they depart a company, and now with new “Healthy Workplace” anti-bullying legislation going into effect they have a new weapon in the fight against employer misconduct.

Syntrio is committed to helping businesses prevent bullying from occurring within their offices, yet also with assisting businesses in complying with their legal obligation to train employees on the prevention of abusive conduct.  Contact  www.syntrio.com for more information and remember to follow us on TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance issues that may impact your organization!

 

California Legislation Affecting Employment Law in 2015: A New Year Brings New Challenges for Employers

In the fall of 2014 California Governor Jerry Brown signed several new laws into law that will go into effect on January 1, 2015. Many of these laws directly and/or indirectly impact employment law in the State. The following paragraphs provide a brief primer on the new legislation and how each impacts management. As always, Syntrio provides detailed management and employee training, and can assist your business in complying with all state and federal employment laws.

Assembly Bill 2053 – California’s Anti-Bullying Law

Assembly Bill (“AB”) 2053, adds a new educational requirement to the existing training required by Assembly Bill 1825 (commonly known as California’s Harassment Training Law). As you are most likely aware, California employers with 50 or more employees are required to conduct at least two hours of sexual harassment training for supervisors once every two years. AB 2053 requires employers who are subject to the sexual harassment law to continue complying with the requirements of the law, but must also “include prevention of abusive conduct as a component of the training and education . . .” Under the new California law, managers and supervisors must be trained to recognize and prevent abusive behavior in the workplace.

What is “abusive” conduct?

AB 2053 defines “abusive conduct” as “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.” According to the law, abusive conduct may include repeated verbal abuse, such as the use of derogatory remarks and insults; or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating. Important to note, the law states that a single act does not constitute abusive conduct, unless the isolated incident was “especially severe and egregious.”

Does AB 2053 Create a New Cause of Action for Bullying in the Workplace?

Nothing in the new law outlaws abusive conduct in the workplace. However, from an employee morale perspective this type of behavior can have a negative impact on employee productivity and is therefore discouraged. Further, it is impossible to predict what further amendments will take place in the coming months and years with respect to outlawing bullying in the workplace. It is safe to say that AB 2053 could be a precursor to such legislation in California.

Assembly Bill 1443 – Prohibiting Discrimination Against Unpaid Interns

The days of “taking it out on the intern” are over, as AB 1443 goes into effect on January 1, 2015. This law amends the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), and prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals in protected classes with respect to the “selection, termination, training or other terms” for unpaid internships. AB 1443 also prohibits employers from harassing unpaid interns (sexually or otherwise) and makes employers liable for harassment of unpaid interns by non-employees if an employer knew or should have known of the conduct but failed to take corrective action.

AB 1443 also prohibits employers from taking adverse action against unpaid interns based on religious beliefs, and employers must provide reasonable accommodation for religious observance unless doing so would pose an undue hardship. In short, the new law requires employers to treat unpaid interns as employees for the purposes of discrimination and harassment. Unrelated to this law, but still extremely important are the many wage and hour issues that can arise from having unpaid interns working at your business. It is a practice that is ripe for litigation, and AB 1443 only adds causes of action to an already popular category of individual for employment litigation.

AB 1660 Requires California Employers to Be Careful With Assumptions About Current and Prospective Employees

AB 1660 amends the FEHA to prohibit discrimination against an employee who presents a driver license issued to them under AB 60, which allows illegal immigrants to obtain a driver license even though the individual does not have the legal right to work in the United States.

Although this law is in direct conflict with employer obligations under the Federal Immigration law, it essentially means that although individuals must have the right to work in the US, they cannot be singled out at the application or hiring process and employers cannot assume they do not have the right to work in the US just because they have one of these driver’s licenses. Therefore, California employers must be especially careful when interviewing or hiring or in any situation in which a current or prospective employee may need to show the employer his or her driver’s license.

AB 1792 Prohibits Discrimination Based on Employee Receipt of State Funds

AB 1792 prohibits discrimination and retaliation against employees who are recipients of public assistance, specifically the Medi-Cal program. This portion of AB 1792 is a direct reaction to another provision in the bill that requires state agencies to prepare and publish a list of the 500 top employers with the most Medi-Cal recipients (“employer” defined as having 100 or more employees on Medi-Cal). Because the state is afraid that employers will select individuals for layoff or termination to avoid making this list they have included Medi-Cal recipients as protected individuals under state law.

SB 967 – California’s “Yes Means Yes” Law

SB 967 amends the California Education Code to require schools receiving state funds to uphold an affirmative consent standard in disciplinary hearings and to educate students about the standard. This new law attempts to reduce the gray area in sexually violent crimes in an effort to reduce such misconduct from occurring.

Under SB 967, consent is to be defined as “affirmative, unambiguous, and conscious decision by each participant to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity.” Further, the law requires affirmative training of both students and faculty about affirmative consent, including all incoming students as part of orientation. Institutions that receive state funding will need to begin conducting training under this law, and should do so in conjunction with requirements set forth by the Campus SaVE Act, which went into effect in Fall 2014.

Syntrio, Inc. specializes in providing Ethics and HR compliance training. Contact us today at 888-289-6670 for a discussion on how we can help you and your business. Additionally, for regular updates on HR and ethics issues that may impact your business, follow Syntrio on Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn.

California Govenor Signs Bill Requiring Education on Abusive Conduct in the Workplace

As many in the Human Resources field are undoubtedly aware, California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law Assembly Bill 2053, which adds a new educational requirement to the existing training required by Assembly Bill 1825 (commonly known as California’s Harassment Training Law).

Under existing California Law, employers with 50 or more employees must provide at least two hours of sexual harassment training to supervisors, and the requirements of the law are set forth in Government Code section 12950.1.

Assembly Bill 2053, which takes effect January 1, 2015, amends Government Code section 12950.1, and requires employers who are subject to the sexual harassment law to continue complying with the requirements of the law, but also “include prevention of abusive conduct as a component of the training and education . . .”

What is “abusive” conduct according to AB 2053?

AB 2053 defines “abusive conduct” as “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. A single act shall not constitute abusive conduct, unless especially severe and egregious.”

Abusive Conduct may include the following:

  • Verbally abusing someone by yelling or screaming at them
  • Repeated demeaning and degrading verbal remarks that "put down" or make employees feel subhuman
  • Humiliating others through public criticism, gossip or ridicule
  • Denigrating the work standards or achievements of others
  •  Intentionally destroying an employee’s work product such that the individual receives punishment or reprimand
  •  Work sabotage through misinformation or by giving impossible deadlines
  •  Not giving credit
  •  Isolation from opportunities, information, and interaction with others
  •  Physical contact with a co-worker such as pushing, blocking, or hitting, etc.
  •  Throwing books, chairs, stacks of paper, or other “conduct” that a reasonable person would find intimidating
  •  Stealing files, personal affects, or office supplies

Importantly, the definition specifically states that unless the conduct is especially severe and egregious, a single act does not usually constitute abusive conduct.

Does the New Law Create a Cause of Action for Abusive Conduct?

No. While allowing abusive conduct to persist within the workplace may be a poor management strategy or bad for business, nothing in the new law makes this type of conduct illegal at this time. We cannot predict whether there will be a law in the coming years that will indeed create a cause of action for abusive conduct (and the language in the law certainly would allow one to speculate that this is the case) For the time being, employers subject to AB 1825 must merely educate their supervisors as to what abusive conduct is (and ideally to prevent it).

From a practical perspective it will be difficult (albeit not impossible given the nature of some judges within the state and federal courts) for a court to draw the line between what is and is not abusive conduct. However, what is likely is that those businesses who choose not to implement the educational requirement of AB 2053 could be subject to a cause of action similar to a California “failure to prevent” harassment claim. We stress that at this time there is nothing on the books creating this sort of action against the employer, but it is not a stretch to see how the plaintiff’s bar will use this sort of statute to their advantage.

Finally, although the new law is unclear as to whether employers who are current on their mandated California sexual harassment training must re-train to include information about abusive conduct in the workplace, it is clear that any employers planning on conducting sexual harassment training going forward should be sure to include this information just to remain on the safe side.

Syntrio, Inc. specializes in providing Ethics and HR compliance training. Contact us today at 888-289-6670 for a discussion on how we can help you and your business.