The Boeing Corporation will pay a $72.5 million settlement to be shared among over 17,000 female employees who joined a class action suit alleging gender discrimination. The settlement was prompted in part by company documentation which showed that women typically earned less than men when doing similar jobs. A race discrimination suit against Boeing filed by 15,000 African American employees is scheduled to go to trial in federal court this month.
Source: Business and Legal Reports, November 14, 2005
New California Law Requires Anti-Harassment Training
California has a new law, Assembly Bill 1825, which mandates anti-harassment training for all supervisors beginning in January 2006. The law applies to organizations that employ or otherwise "receive the services of" 50 or more people (the implication being that independent contractors could be included in this count.) A minimum of two hours of interactive training is required for every supervisory employee every two years, and must be provided for every new supervisor within six months of hiring or promotion.
There are many questions regarding this new law. What must the training consist of? Who can do it? Who is classified as a supervisor under the law? What is the liability if an organization does not comply?
The law does provide some guidance in these areas. AB 1825 specifically identifies that training must be given on the topic of sexual harassment, although it does not necessarily limit education to only this form of workplace harassment. The new law is in addition to existing law which requires all employers to post sexual harassment information in the workplace and provide printed information on the issue. The law states that the training must include information and practical guidance regarding state and federal laws on sexual harassment, as well as practical examples aimed at instructing supervisors in the prevention of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.
Instructors for the classes must be those with "knowledge and expertise in the prevention of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation." They do not have to be attorneys or in-house human resources professionals. Instruction must be done in a classroom setting, or through some other "effective, interactive" means. The strong implication is that simply showing a video will not meet the requirements unless there is some opportunity for discussion or for questions to be answered.
Supervisors are defined as those who have the authority to hire, transfer, suspend, lay off, recall, promote, discharge, assign, reward or discipline other employees, or who have the responsibility to direct them, adjust their grievances or recommend action. Under this definition, fire department company officers definitely qualify as supervisors, as would many in staff positions who direct other workers.
Failure to comply with AB 1825 does not automatically result in liability for an employer, nor does compliance automatically shield an employer from liability for harassment. But it does seem likely that if employers do not provide effective or compliant training, this failure to act can certainly come back to haunt them if a harassment complaint is filed.
This new law will probably have many California employers scrambling to provide training that will be compliant, or to verify that their existing training will meet the new standards. It is hoped that employers will look past just the letter of the law to the spirit of it; to provide effective training to prevent and mitigate workplace harassment. This may mean looking beyond the most convenient sources for such training and beyond the typical problems addressed to designing training in this area that meets each organization's unique needs.
Sources: Assembly Bill 1825 retrieved from www.leginfo.ca.gov
"California's New Mandatory Harassment Training Law" by ELT and Littler Mendelson
Linda F. Willing, 2005