There have been a variety of responses to the #MeToo movement since it began a little over a year ago. Employees have responded by filing more internal and external complaints. In fact, in early October the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its fiscal year 2018 statistics regarding workplace harassment. Among other things, the data showed that charges filed with the EEOC alleging sexual harassment increased by more than 12 percent from fiscal year 2017. In addition, the EEOC reported that it recovered nearly $70 million for victims of sexual harassment in fiscal year 2018, an increase of $22.5 million from fiscal year 2017. You can find more information on the EEOC’s report here.
Employers have responded to the #MeToo movement by updating policies, conducting more trainings, and holding employees accountable. While the United States Congress has not yet responded with specific legislation, many states have taken action to address sexual harassment and sexual misconduct in the workplace.
As a result, employers operating in multiple states must be aware of the various approaches taken by states and ensure compliance obligations are met. Most employers have already taken action to address differing state law requirements such as how and when to pay employees, availability and use of paid leave, and the legality and enforcement of restrictive covenants. This year, employers will need to add sexual harassment compliance to the state-by-state compliance list.
The states take a varied approach to addressing this issue through legal regulations and requirements. We anticipate that more state laws are on the way. In this four-part series, we explore some of the more recent state law developments addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. We will start our exploration with the State of California.
Limitations on Settlements of Sex-Based Harassment and Discrimination Claims
On September 30, 2018, a new law was enacted that prohibits the inclusion of language in settlement agreements that prevent the disclosure of factual information related to:
- Acts of sexual assault;
- Acts of sexual harassment as defined under Section 51.9 if the California Civil Code;
- Acts of workplace harassment and discrimination based on sex;
- Failure to prevent acts of workplace sexual harassment or sex discrimination; and
- Retaliation against a person for reporting harassment or discrimination based on sex.
The new law applies to any settlement agreement entered into on or after January 1, 2019 settling a claim filed in a civil or administrative action. If a settlement agreement contains a provision prohibiting disclosure of the information listed above, the provision will be considered void as a matter of law and against public policy.
As a result of this new law, employers with operations in California should consider the impact on potential settlement of sex-based harassment and discrimination claims. The new prohibitions on certain confidentiality provisions of a settlement may create a greater risk for damage to the employer’s reputation even after settling a sex-based claim with an employee or former-employee.
Increased Sexual Harassment Training Requirements
Since 2005, California employers with at least 50 employees have been required to provide two hours of sexual harassment prevention training to all supervisory employees once every two years. On September 30, 2018, legislation was approved that will require California employers with at least five employees to provide sexual harassment training and education to all employees (both supervisory and non-supervisory). This new law requires employers to provide at least two hours of sexual harassment prevention training and education to all supervisory employees and at least one hour of such training to all non-supervisory employees by January 1, 2020. Thereafter, the training and education must be provided once every two years.
As a reminder, the sexual harassment training required since 2005, must address all of the following:
- The definition of sexual harassment under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964;
- The statutes and case-law prohibiting and preventing sexual harassment;
- The types of conduct that can be sexual harassment;
- The remedies available for victims of sexual harassment;
- Strategies to prevent sexual harassment;
- Supervisors’ obligation to report harassment;
- Practical examples of harassment;
- The limited confidentiality of the complaint process;
- Resources for victims of sexual harassment, including to whom they should report it;
- How employers must correct harassing behavior;
- What to do if a supervisor is personally accused of harassment;
- The elements of an effective anti-harassment policy and how to use it;
- “Abusive conduct” under California Government Code section 12950.1, subdivision (g)(2).
This training must be provided in a classroom setting, through interactive E-learning, or through a live webinar. E-learning training must provide instructions on how to contact a trainer who can answer questions within two business days. All training must include questions that assess learning, skill-building activities to assess understanding and application of content, and hypothetical scenarios about harassment with discussion questions.
Additional information on the requirements related to California’s mandatory sexual harassment training can be found here.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our journey through the patchwork approach of other recent state law developments in response to the #MeToo movement.