California law currently requires that most employers provide sexual harassment prevention training to supervisory employees every two years. In light of the attention being given to incidents of “workplace bullying,” California has now passed a law (AB 2053) amending Government Code section 12950.1 to require training on the prevention of “abusive conduct” as a component of the harassment prevention training presently required. The new requirement will go into effect on January 1, 2015.
The new law 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.” The law further specifies that 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.” Although the law has mandated training targeted towards “abusive conduct” generally, California law has not been expanded (at least not yet) to create a cause of action for such conduct where it is not based on a protected characteristic (i.e., sex, race, etc.) and/or other legally prohibited discrimination or harassment.
“Abusive conduct” training is to be included within the already-mandated minimum two‑hour time frame, however, there is no specific time allotment. As of yet, there is also no guidance on what information must or even should be included in the curriculum. As a practical matter, many California employers rely on third parties (such as HR training vendors or legal counsel) to conduct the required training. For those employers, the new law may not require more effort than double-checking to make certain that its counsel or vendor is aware of this change and has adequately updated the training materials. However, some employers utilize video or other internal training methods. In that case, it is critical that employers review their videos or other training materials and purchase updated or supplemental products that include “abusive conduct” materials. Additionally, if any employers have scheduled training between now and the end of 2014, they may wish to consider immediately updating their training to avoid any issues.