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What Californian businesses need to know about AB2053

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John Sherman
2017-02-28

In January 2015, Californian lawmakers introduced a change to their current legislation regarding workplace harassment. The AB2053 amendment means it is now mandatory for companies with over 50 employees to provide training, not just for sexual harassment in the workplace, but also anti-bullying in relation to this type of misconduct.

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This training is specifically intended for supervisors and managers so that it now includes anti-bullying when discussing potential forms of sexual harassment. The amendment also states that bullying isn’t constituted by a single offense, unless extreme in nature, but rather by a series of events that occur.

Why was this law introduced?

Although California already had laws relating to mandatory sexual harassment training in place, there was nothing stipulated about bullying. Those who supported the law stated that sexual harassment in the workplace was a growing epidemic in America which needed to be addressed before it got out of hand.

The main purpose of the amendment was to ensure that harassment was stopped before it begins, which is where the focus on anti-bullying measures comes in. Proponents of this law found that abusive work environments led to a range of issues in the workplace such as low morale, absenteeism, and high turnover of staff, among other issues.

By targeting the problem before it turns into abusive conduct, which is often the case, the AB2053 amendment will hopefully lead to a reduced rate of workplace sexual harassment. Although it took many years to have this bill introduced, the steady rates of sexual harassment in the workplace had been signaling a need for change for a long time coming.

What constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace?

Not only is it important for workplace managers and supervisors to be aware of the signs of sexual harassment, so too should all employees. In some cases, the perpetrator may not even be aware that they have made someone uncomfortable so it’s important to understand exactly what constitutes sexual harassment.

Workplace sexual harassment doesn’t even need to occur in the workplace necessarily; it can be outside of work and between colleagues or at a work related function.

This harassment can come in the form of verbal, physical, or written abuse or misconduct, and includes incidents such as:

  • Sexually suggestive comments or jokes;
  • Inappropriate physical contact such as hugging, grabbing, or touching in a way that makes someone uncomfortable;
  • Asking intrusive questions about someone’s appearance, sexuality, or personal life;
  • Staring or leering at someone to a point that makes them uncomfortable.

Although it might seem unlikely to witness any of these events taking place in the workplace, the number or incidents of sexual harassment are still quite astonishing, thus making it even more important than ever to increase training and prevention.

The importance of sexual harassment training in the workplace

So, what did the state of sexual harassment incidences in the workplace look like up until now? An article published by contemporary women’s magazine Cosmopolitan highlighted that a staggering one in three women has reportedly been victims of workplace sexual harassment.

Interestingly enough, just a third of those women claim to have reported it to their superiors, meaning many of these cases aren’t even highlighted. These also don’t include the male victims, which although are even less reported than the women, are still extremely prevalent in the workplace.

As workplaces evolve and shift towards a more digital landscape, the ways in which harassment is experienced is also changing. Emails with inappropriate jokes, a link in the group chat to something explicit, or an instant message that makes the receiver feel uncomfortable are all the new and scary ways that sexual harassment can be felt in the workplace.

How these changes could help your workplace

  • Ensures employees are aware of expectations – when laws are reexamined in this way it gives everyone in the workplace, not just supervisors, a chance to brush up on what is expected of their conduct.
  • Keeps you protected if things were to go wrong – without educating your managers and supervisors on amendments such as these, you have no legal leg to stand on in a court of law as it can be argued that the education of sexual harassment was your responsibility.
  • Workplace bullying and harassment lead to reduced productivity – studies have found that victims of workplace bullying have decreased productivity and experience feelings of stress and anxiety on a daily basis.

What this law means for future workplaces

When implemented with a standard training and orientation package for all new employees, training on harassment and workplace conduct is the easiest way to ensure everyone is educated on the subject. Even if your workplace doesn’t meet the set requirements by law for mandatory training, there are far too many benefits not to make it a condition in your workplace.

With a huge focus on bullying and its prevention, not just in the workplace but also in schools and other environments, small amendments such as AB2053 will hopefully lead the way to a reduced rate of these incidents in all areas of society.

 

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