Karen Bonanno

Karen Bonanno

The California Legislature passed and the governor signed into law an avalanche of labor laws in 2018. Many of them were controversial. But one — Senate Bill 1343 — received overwhelming support.

The bill expands the requirement for companies to provide supervisors and workers training to prevent sexual harassment.

In this #MeToo era, the bill authored by state Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, did not receive a single negative vote in a bitterly divided and partisan Legislature that seems ready to argue even about the time of day.

State law enacted more than a decade ago required employers with 50 or more employees to provide at least two hours of training and education regarding sexual harassment, abusive conduct and harassment based on gender to all employees within six months of becoming a supervisor and every two years after that.

The new law requires employers with five or more employees, including seasonal and temporary employees, to provide sexual harassment training to all employees every two years by Jan. 1, 2020. That means that training must happen in 2019.

The training must be given within six months of a new employee assuming their position and once every two years after that. Supervisors are required to receive at least two hours of training, nonsupervisory employees at least one hour.

SB 1343 requires the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing to develop and make available training courses that comply with the new law. But employers can customize training programs to fit the specific needs and challenges of their businesses and industries.

The stories and accusations arising from the #MeToo movement demonstrate that the old strategy of giving supervisors two hours of training every two years and no training to nonsupervisory employees was clearly not working.

But merely expanding the program to require some form of minimum training to all employees cannot be relied upon to end the sometimes illegal and, frankly, immoral behavior of a few supervisors and co-workers.

As with the old strategy, the new training requirement only will improve the workplace culture if it is part of a larger strategy, rather than a “one and done” compliance effort. There needs to be a companywide commitment to the concept that all employees must treat each other with respect.

Begin at the top. Training works only if company leaders are engaged and actively supporting the goal of having a harassment-free workplace. Leaders must support employee participation in education and training. If company leaders do not value training programs, neither will employees.

Customize content. With the help of attorneys and human resources consultants, training programs can be customized to include examples that relate to actual experiences in a particular workplace. A presentation that includes obvious or irrelevant examples of improper behavior will serve to only meet compliance requirements of the new law. For the most part, employees will snooze through presentations.

Encourage discussion. Training works when participants can ask questions and receive answers from informed experts. If a training session does not spark discussion among participants, employees will become bored and disengaged.

Go beyond the minimum. The new law requires two- and one-hour training sessions for supervisors and nonsupervisory employees, respectively, every two years. But companies can and should do more. Arrange regular training sessions or discussion groups to focus on specific workplace issues. A poster on the wall or random pamphlets left in the staff dining area will not convey a company’s commitment to a harassment-free workplace as clearly as real communication between workers and supervisors.

No doubt, in this #MeToo environment, it makes legal and financial sense for companies to comply with California’s new training law to eliminate sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. But from a good management and employee productivity standpoint, offering meaningful training and follow-up also makes business sense.

Karen Bonanno can be contacted at her company, P.A.S. Associates and P.A.S. Investigations. The Bakersfield-based human resources consulting firm can be reached through its website www.PASassociates.com and through its PAS Facebook page. Its next harassment and bullying prevention class is Feb. 26.

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