BB&K In the News Apr 12, 2016

California Offers Guidance on Educating Employees About Workplace Bullying

BB&K Partner Alison Alpert Was Interviewed by the Society for Human Resource Management on New Regulations That Provide Employers Guidance on What Constitutes Harassment

A California law that went into effect Jan. 1, 2015 mandated that managers must be trained to identify “abusive conduct,” or workplace bullying, in conjunction with sexual harassment prevention training. The law was an amendment to the Fair Employment and Housing Act, but lacked details, according to a report by the Society for Human Resource Management.  But a new set of regulations that took effect April 1 provide greater details so businesses know what training should include.

Best Best & Krieger LLP Partner Alison Alpert, who is head of the firm’s Labor & Employment practice group, was interviewed by SHRM on the new guidelines:

The new regulations must by necessity remain somewhat ambiguous, said Alison Alpert…. “The fear—and I think it’s legitimate—is that [a more specific definition of abusive conduct] would  just increase litigation against employers in an unfair way,” said Alpert, who educates supervisors about harassment law and investigates claims of harassment and retaliation.”

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California law bars abusive conduct in the workplace that targets someone in a category protected from discrimination under categories such as gender, age, disability or ethnic origin.  Denying a job or a promotion to someone because he or she uses a wheelchair is illegal; calling his or her presentation “a piece of junk” may be evidence of poor management skills, but it’s     not barred by law. As Alpert puts it: “Is it a harasser or a jerk boss?”

Abusive behavior can create a hostile work environment yet not meet the legal standard of actionable, harassing conduct, said Alpert, who has probed allegations of workplace harassment that were, upon review, more accurately defined as bullying.

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When HR professionals meet with an aggrieved employee, they would be wise to drill down on the list of problematic behaviors detailed by the worker. “When employees come forward,” Alpert  said, “they may not be certain what complaint they are making if they don’t really understand the harassment laws. People use the term ‘harassment’ a lot … and they don’t necessarily mean it in terms of the Fair Employment and Housing Act and that legal way. They just mean ‘My boss is being mean to me.’”

To read the full report, which was posted March 30, 2016 to the Society for Human Resource Management website, click here.

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