Seyfarth Synopsis: For certain employment-related contracts, California legislation effective January 1, 2019, will limit efforts to prevent disclosure of information relating to claims of unlawful acts and sexual harassment in the workplace. Read on for the devilish details.

California employers will soon have to heed a new crop of laws, born of the #MeToo movement, which will limit the terms permitted in employment-related contracts. What types of contracts, and what kinds of terms, you may ask? The answer, involving discussion of three separate bills adding three new California Code provisions, is a mouthful. But here goes.

  • Affected contracts include employment contracts, settlement agreements, and any other kind of contract that would try to prevent someone from testifying about alleged criminal conduct or sexual harassment.
  • The limitations include prohibiting waivers of the right to testify about alleged criminal conduct, including sexual harassment, as well as outlawing provisions that would prevent disclosure of information about sexual harassment and other illegal conduct in the workplace. The exact types of prohibitions depend on the kind of contract we are talking about.

The devil, of course, is in the details—and here the details are complex. Because prohibitions and permissions for certain kinds of contracts overlap somewhat, each case calls for careful analysis. The three bills in question, applying to agreements made on or after January 1, 2019, provide as follows:

  • AB 3109 (adding Civil Code § 1670.11) addresses contracts generally, and voids contractual provisions that would prevent a party from testifying about alleged criminal conduct or sexual harassment when the party has been compelled or requested to do so by lawful process.
  • SB 820 (adding Code of Civil Procedure § 1001) addresses agreements settling lawsuits or administrative complaints (as opposed to claims asserted in an internal complaint or demand letter), and voids contractual provisions that would prevent a party from disclosing “factual information” about sexual harassment or related retaliatory conduct.
  • SB 1300 (adding Gov’t Code § 12964.5) amends the FEHA to address agreements required as a condition of employment, and makes it an unlawful employment practice to require employees to release FEHA claims or to keep mum about “unlawful acts in the workplace,” unless the agreement is a negotiated resolution of a lawsuit, an agency complaint, or an internal complaint brought by an employee, in which case the employer can still get a release and require confidentiality concerning allegedly unlawful acts (to the extent the confidentiality provisions are not otherwise unlawful by means of the two new provisions discussed above).

Meanwhile, an amendment to the federal tax code, 26 U.S.C. §162(q), affects payments made or incurred with respect to sexual harassment settlements made after December 22, 2017. This federal development is beyond the scope of this post, but we mention it as a “heads up” item and refer you to our previous blog post here.

Contracts Generally

New Civil Code § 1670.11 is straightforward: the law frowns upon contracts by which employees agree not to testify about alleged criminal conduct or sexual harassment if they are officially requested to do so. This new statute seems a solution in search of a problem in that few employers have ever been so bold as to have employees agree to defy official requests to testify on these subject matters. But there it is.

Settlement Agreements

New Code of Civil Procedure § 1001, by contrast, can require significant changes in existing settlement practices. The law states that no provision in an agreement to settle a lawsuit or administrative complaint can prohibit the disclosure of “factual information” related to a claim filed in that proceeding if the information is “regarding” (1) sexual assault, (2) sexual harassment, (3) workplace harassment or discrimination based on sex, (4) failure to prevent sex discrimination or harassment in the workplace, or (5) retaliation for reporting sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace.

But are some non-disclosure provisions still permitted in settlement agreements? Yes.

  • The “amount paid” to resolve any claim lawsuit or administrative complaint may still be kept confidential. The new California law is silent on whether non-monetary settlement terms may also be kept confidential.
  • If the claimant in the settled lawsuit or administrative complaint requests confidentiality, the parties may agree to prevent the disclosure of “all facts” regarding alleged sexual harassment or discrimination (including court filings) that would lead to the discovery of the claimant’s identity.

NOTE: This carve-out does not apply where a government agency or public official is a party. In those instances, agreements cannot contain provisions keeping the claimant’s identity confidential.

  • If an employee has merely filed an internal complaint or sent a demand letter regarding sexual harassment, discrimination, or retaliation—and has not filed a lawsuit or administrative charge—a settlement agreement may still contain standard confidentiality provisions.

Agreements for Raises, Bonuses, or New or Continued Employment

New Government Code § 12964.5—which expressly does not apply to negotiated settlement agreements—provides:

  • It is an unlawful employment practice to require employees—either as a condition of employment or in exchange for a raise or bonus—to sign any of the following provisions:
    • A statement that the employee does not have any FEHA claim against the employer or other covered entity.
    • A release of the right to pursue a FEHA claim or to notify a governmental entity of the claim.
    • Any agreement that prohibits disclosure of “information about unlawful acts in the workplace, including, but not limited to, sexual harassment.”
    • This new FEHA provision carries more bite than the other new provisions, because a contract unlawful under the new FEHA provision is not only unenforceable but also can enable an aggrieved employee to sue for damages and other relief.

Workplace solution: Taken together, these new California laws should prompt a thorough review of employee agreements, release agreements, severance agreements, settlement agreements, contracts for continued employment, and even some Employee Handbook provisions. Some language may need to be added to certain agreements. Meanwhile, where the employer is settling a case that does not allege sexual harassment or assault or discrimination or retaliation, broader confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses remain as permissible as ever.

Seyfarth Synopsis: Halloween is lurking just around the corner, and workplace festivities may present unusual challenges. Unsafe or offensive costumes, religious discrimination, and harassment are among the issues potentially facing employers around this time of year. Here are some tips to avoid the tricks and enjoy the treats.

Exorcise Your Right to Have Fun

It’s not uncommon to allow employees to dress up when Halloween falls on a weekday, but without proper guidelines, it can quickly lead to complications. Employers should urge employees to be mindful when choosing costumes that they are still expected to comply with any workplace anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. If the workplace typically requires a dress code, employers permitting Halloween costumes should announce that, while employees may dress up, they should utilize sensible judgment.

Employees should be reminded to avoid costumes that poke fun at a particular culture, that are overly sexy, or that relate to a particular religion, as employees with differing backgrounds or beliefs may take offense. Political costumes can be contentious as well, especially when, as is the case this year, Halloween occurs just before Election Day.

There are also special considerations with costumes when it comes to certain environments. For instance, costumes for healthcare professionals working with patients that conjure thoughts of death or injury, and excessively scary costumes in places catering to children, should be reconsidered. These concepts ought to be applied to any guidance pertaining to decorations as well.

If You’ve Got It, Haunt It

Halloween often prompts individuals to dress provocatively, which, in many cases, is probably against the company’s dress code. However, previous sexual harassment cases demonstrate that sometimes a costume doesn’t need to be overtly suggestive to elicit inappropriate comments.

This issue is particularly crucial given the recent spike in #MeToo lawsuits and several incoming California laws aiming to strengthen enforcement of sexual harassment laws and make it easier for victims to pursue civil claims. Therefore, employees should be reminded that, regardless of a coworker’s Halloween attire, there’s no excuse to make statements that would otherwise be unacceptable.

Oh My Gourd

While Halloween is largely celebrated as a secular holiday, religious discrimination can still be a concern, and employees should not be penalized for opting out of the festivities. This has been a common issue for the EEOC with respect to Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not observe certain holidays. For example, this was previously addressed when an employee was fired for refusing to participate in a workplace Halloween party, after notifying her employer that it was against her religious beliefs to do so. Additionally, due to its pagan roots, some employees may believe Halloween to be a celebration of death or the occult, and take offense to any pressure to join in.

The Fair Employment and Housing Act and the California Workplace Religious Freedom Act both prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, and require employers to accommodate employees’ religious practices and observances. Some employees (such as those who practice Wicca, for example) might consider Halloween to be a religious holiday, and request time off from work. Notably, FEHA protections apply to more than just the traditional, more commonly recognized religions, so long as the employee’s beliefs are “sincerely held.” To avoid running afoul of these regulations, employers should have a plan for responding to such requests.

Let’s Get This Party Startled

An important, but easy to overlook, concern is the potential for costumes to create a safety hazard. Loose-fitting costumes or those with pieces that hang away from the body can be dangerous to employees working with heavy machinery or driving a vehicle. And, even employees’ innocent attempts to frighten coworkers can end in injury. Employers who wish to avoid workers’ compensation claims and complaints filed with CAL/OSHA should remind employees to dress with safety in mind.

Finally, there is also a risk that certain costume pieces will result in employees feeling threatened. A realistic replica of a weapon can cause panic and accessories that can be used as a weapon may cause fear and actual harm. In order to protect the physical and mental safety of all employees, employers should discourage costumes involving weapons.

Workplace Solutions: Employers should feel free to allow some Halloween fun at work, as long as employees are made aware of expectations to comply with company policies, respect their colleagues, and maintain safe working conditions.

Edited By: Coby Turner

Seyfarth Synopsis: When confronted with a lawsuit naming an individual employee as a defendant, should California employers run from the employee or provide a defense? The duty to indemnify employees often leaves employers in a pickle, particularly as to allegations of sexual harassment.

This scenario has haunted many California companies: an employee sues the company for sexual harassment and also names the alleged harasser as an individual defendant. Particularly with today’s #MeToo movement, an employer may want to distance itself from the alleged harasser. But what are the risks? The employer certainly does not want to give the impression of ratifying the alleged misconduct. Yet this is California. Does its law require the employer to get involved? The answer, like so much in California employment law, depends.

California has a peculiarly strong public policy requiring employers to indemnify employees sued for conduct occurring as part of their employment. Labor Code section 2802 codifies this policy. California employers, thus, must indemnify employees if their conduct falls within the scope of employment.

The duty to indemnify is not, however, a duty to defend. The statute merely requires California employers to indemnify their employees. Thus, while employers can choose to offer counsel to help defend an accused employee (and for strategic reasons may want to exercise that choice), California law permits an employer to decline to defend its employee and to see if the employee’s conduct fell within the scope of employment.

The employee defendant, to claim indemnity, must show that the claim arose from the employee’s employment. If the employee makes that showing—either during the litigation or in a separate action—the employer must pay all of the employee’s necessary costs and fees, including attorneys’ fees and any judgment.

The question for California employers, particularly when faced with sensitive allegations of sexual misconduct, is when does conduct fall within the scope of employment? For this, the answer is decidedly Californian—it depends.

To answer it, courts generally hold that sexual misconduct by its nature falls outside the scope of employment. But this does not mean that employers can simply run away from employees accused of misconduct. Employers may still be on the hook for the employee’s defense costs if the employee’s defense prevails. And this might be the result for even the most egregious allegations, if they turn out to be unproven.

To avoid getting caught in this pickle, smart employers check where the ball is before they decide to run towards a particular base. They thoroughly investigate a complaint’s allegations to decide whether to stand with or run away from the employee named as a defendant. This being California, however, even the most prudent employer may not avoid liability. If a court ultimately absolves the employee, then the employer may still be responsible for the employee’s fees. But at least the employer has played the game knowing where the ball is and where the employer stands.

If you would have questions as to whether to offer defense or indemnification to an employee accused of misconduct in a lawsuit, please contact your favorite Seyfarth attorney or the authors.

Seyfarth Synopsis: August 31 was the California Legislature’s last day to send bills to Governor Brown for his approval or veto by his September 30 deadline. Chief among them are bills addressing sexual harassment.

2018, the year of #MeToo, saw California Senators and Assembly Members introduce numerous bills on sexual harassment-prevention, often followed by their colleagues’ response of “me too!” By the August 31 bill-passing deadline, the Legislature approved no fewer than 12 sexual harassment-related bills, as well as bills relating to lactation accommodations, gender quotas for corporation boards of directors, and various other labor and employment-related bills.

Below is a summary of passed bills now before Governor Brown for his approval or veto. Once the Governor acts (by his own September 30 deadline), we’ll provide an update on all labor and employment-related bills enacted into law this Session, as well as those bills that failed to pass and any that met a gubernatorial veto.

Sexual Harassment

Limiting Settlement Agreements. For settlement agreements entered into on or after January 1, 2019, SB 820 would prohibit and make void any provision that prevents the disclosure of information related to civil or administrative complaints of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and workplace harassment or discrimination based on sex. SB 820 expressly authorizes provisions that (i) preclude the disclosure of the amount paid in settlement and (ii) protect the claimant’s identity and any fact that could reveal the identity, so long as the claimant has requested anonymity and the opposing party is not a government agency or public official. SB 820 suggests that a violation of its provisions would give rise to a cause of action for civil damages.

Banning Waivers of Rights to Testify. As to any contract or settlement agreement entered into on or after January 1, 2019, SB 3109 would make void and unenforceable any provision that waives a party’s right to testify in a legal proceeding (if required or requested by court order, subpoena or administrative or legislative request) regarding criminal conduct or sexual harassment on the part of the other contracting party, or the other party’s agents or employees.

Banning Contractual Limits on Disclosure and Effectively Banning Arbitration Agreements. For agreements entered into, modified, or extended on or after January 1, 2019, AB 3080 would forbid any business to require, as a condition of employment , of conferring an employment benefit, or of entering a contract:

  • that a job applicant, employee, or independent contractor not disclose instances of sexual harassment suffered, witnessed, or discovered in the work place or in performance of the contract, opposing unlawful practices, or participating in harassment and discrimination related investigations or proceedings, or
  • that a job applicant or employee waive any right, forum, or procedure (e.g,, arbitration) for a violation of the FEHA or Labor Code, including any requirement that an individual “opt out” or take affirmative action to preserve such rights.

AB 3080 would make actionable any threatened or actual retaliation against an individual who refuses to consent to the forbidden requirements. AB 3080 would authorize injunctive relief and attorney’s fees to any plaintiff who proves a violation. Possibly because much of AB 3080 could be held preempted by the FAA, AB 3080 contains a severability clause by which the rest of the law will remain in effect if a court finds certain sections invalid.

Extending Liability for Employers and for Businesses Using Labor Contractors. AB 3081 would amend the FEHA and Labor Code to: (1) add status as a sexual harassment victim to existing prohibitions on discrimination against employees who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking; (2) create a rebuttable presumption of unlawful retaliation if the employer—within 30 days of notice of the victim’s status—discharges or threatens to discharge, demotes, suspends, or otherwise discriminates against a victim employee; (3) make a business jointly liable for harassment of workers supplied by the business’s labor contractor (existing law similarly extends liability for the contractor’s failure to pay wages and obtain valid workers’ compensation coverage); (4) prohibit businesses from shifting to their labor contractors duties or liabilities under the Labor Code workers’ compensation insurance provisions.

Expanding Record Retention Duties. AB 1867 would require employers with 50 or more employees to maintain records of internal employee complaints alleging sexual harassment for at least five years after the last day of employment of either the complainant or the alleged harasser named in the complaint, whichever is later. If an employer fails to comply, then AB 1867 would allow the DFEH to seek an order requiring the employer to do so.

Extending the Deadline for Harassment Complaints. AB 1870 would extend a complainant’s time to file an administrative charge with the DFEH from one year to three years after the alleged incident. This expansion of the limitations period would apply to all types of FEHA-prohibited conduct, including sexual harassment.

The Sexual Harassment Omnibus Bill. The strongest, and largest, sexual harassment bill is SB 1300. Passing the Assembly by a narrow margin of 41-33, SB 1300 would:

  • Adopt or reject specified judicial decisions regarding sexual harassment (in each case expanding employer liability). Specifically, SB 1300 would (1) prohibit reliance on Brooks v. City of San Mateo to determine what conduct is sufficiently severe or pervasive to constitute actionable harassment, (2) disapprove any language in Kelley v. Conco Companies that might support different standards for hostile work environment harassment depending on the type of workplace, and (3) affirm Nazir v. United Airlines, Inc.’s “observation that hostile working environment cases involve issues ‘not determinable on paper.’”
  • Expand an employer’s potential liability under the FEHA for acts of nonemployees to all harassment (removing the “sexual” limitation).
  • Prohibit an employer from requiring an employee to sign (in specified circumstances) (1) a release of FEHA claims or rights or (2) a document prohibiting disclosure of information about unlawful acts in the workplace.
  • Prohibit a prevailing defendant from being awarded attorney’s fees and costs unless the court finds the action was frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless when brought or that the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly became so.
  • Authorize (but not require) an employer to provide bystander intervention training to its employees.

Expanding Scope of Required Sexual Harassment Training. SB 1343 would require an employer of five or more employees—including seasonal and temporary employees—to provide certain sexual harassment training by January 1, 2020. Within six months of their assuming their position (and once every two years thereafter), all supervisors are to receive at least two hours of training, and all nonsupervisory employees are to receive at least one hour. SB 1343 would also require the DFEH to make available a one-hour and a two-hour online training course employers may use and to make the training videos, existing informational posters, fact sheets, and online training courses available in multiple languages.

Empowering Janitor Harassment Survivors. Touted by Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher as the bill to “empower janitors to prevent #RapeOnTheNightShift,” AB 2079 would bolster existing sexual harassment and violence prevention training and prevention measures:

  • Effective January 1, 2020, all employers applying for new or renewed registration must demonstrate completion of sexual harassment violence prevention requirements and provide an attestation to the Labor Commissioner.
  • The Department of Industrial Relations (“DIR”) must convene an advisory committee to develop requirements for qualified organizations and peer-trainers for employers to use in providing training, and the DIR must maintain a list of qualified organizations and qualified peer-trainers.
  • Employers, upon request, must provide an employee a copy of all training materials.

AB 2079 would also prohibit the Labor Commissioner from approving a janitorial service employer’s request for registration or for renewal if the employer has not fully satisfied a final judgment to a current or former employee for a violation of the FEHA.

Requiring Sexual Harassment Education for In-Home Support Services. AB 3082 would require the Department of Social Services to develop or identify—and provide a copy and description to the Legislature by September 30, 2019—(1) educational materials addressing sexual harassment of in-home supportive services (IHSS) providers and recipients, and (2) a method to collect data on the prevalence of sexual harassment in the IHSS program.

Requiring Sexual Harassment Education by Talent Agencies. AB 2338 would require talent agencies to provide adult artists, parents or legal guardians of minors aged 14-17, and age-eligible minors, within 90 days of retention, educational materials on sexual harassment prevention, retaliation, and reporting resources. For adult model artists only, the talent agency would be required to provide materials on nutrition and eating disorders. Talent agencies would also have to retain, for three years, records showing that those educational materials were provided.

Strengthening Prohibitions Against Harassment With Respect to Professional Relationships. SB 224 would give additional examples of professional relationships where liability for claims of sexual harassment may arise and authorize the DFEH to investigate those circumstances.

Non-Harassment Bills

Opening Doors for Women in the Boardroom. “The time has come for California to bring gender diversity to our corporate boards,” stated co-author Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson in her August 30 press release regarding SB 826. SB 826 would require a publicly held corporation based in California to have a minimum number of females—people who self-identify as women, regardless of their designated sex at birth—on its board of directors. This bill would require each such corporation, by December 31, 2019, to have at least one female director on its board and, if no board seats open up before this date on an all-male board, the corporation would need to increase its authorized number of directors and fill a new seat with a woman. The bill would impose minimum seats that must be filled by women, proportional to the total number of seats, by the end of July 2021. The bill would require the Secretary of State to publish a report by July 1, 2019 of the number of corporations headquartered in California that have at least one female director, and a report by March 1, 2020, detailing (1) the number of corporations that complied with requirements in 2019, (2) the number of corporations that moved their headquarters in or out of California, and (3) the number of publicly held corporations subject to this bill during 2019, but no longer publicly traded.

Corporations failing to comply would face penalties. For each director’s seat not held by a female during at least a portion of the calendar year—when by law it should have been—the corporation would be subject to a $100,000 fine for the first violation and a $300,000 fine for further violations. Corporations that fail to timely file board member information with the Secretary of State would also be subject to a $100,000 fine.

Expanding Lactation Accommodations. Two bills specifying the types of spaces employers must provide women for lactation are now before the Governor. AB 1976 would require employers to make reasonable efforts to provide a room or location (that is not a bathroom, deleting “toilet stall” and inserting “bathroom”) for lactation. The bill would authorize a temporary lactation location if certain conditions are met and provides a narrow undue hardship exemption.

SB 937, meanwhile, would require employers to:

  • Provide a lactation room with prescribed features and access to a sink and refrigerator (or another cooling device suitable for storing milk) in close proximity to the employee’s workspace.
  • Develop and distribute to employees a lactation accommodation policy.
  • Maintain accommodation request records for three years and allow the employee and Labor Commissioner access to the records.

SB 937 would also deem the denial of break time or space for lactation a failure to provide a rest period under Labor Code section 226.7. This bill would require the DLSE to create a model lactation accommodation request form and authorize the DLSE to create a model lactation policy and best practices.

Encouraging Mediation Confidentiality. SB 954 would require attorneys, except in class actions, to provide their mediating clients with a written disclosure containing the mediation confidentiality restrictions provided in the Evidence Code and to obtain a written acknowledgment signed by the client stating that the client has read and understands the confidentiality restrictions. This duty arises as soon as reasonably possible before the client agrees to participate in mediation or a mediation consultation, The bill is an encouragement, with little consequence, providing that an attorney’s failure to comply is not a basis to set aside an agreement prepared in mediation or pursuant to a mediation.

Criminal History. SB 1412—the only bill this year covering criminal background checks to survive the legislative gauntlet—would require employers to consider only a “particular conviction” (as defined by the bill) relevant to the job when screening applicants using a criminal background check.

Pay Statements. Stating it is declaratory of existing law, SB 1252 would amend Labor Code section 226 to provide employees the right “to receive” a copy—not just inspect or copy—their pay statements.

Immigration Documents. AB 2732 would make it a misdemeanor— subject to a $10,000 penalty—for an employer to destroy or withhold passports or other immigration documents. This bill would also require an employer to provide the “Worker’s Bill of Rights” (to be developed by the DIR) to employees either before verifying employment eligibility if hired on or after July 1, 2019 and whenever the document is made available by the DIR if the employee is hired before July 1, 2019. Employers would be required to keep signed copies of this document for at least three years. AB 2732 also would clarify the definition of janitorial services’ employer under the Labor Code, provide that additional contact and compensation information for janitorial workers be retained for three years, and require these employers (as part of their application or renewal of their registration) to attest that sexual violence and harassment prevention training has been provided.

Contractor Liability. AB 1565 would, immediately upon the Governor’s signing, repeal the express provision that relieved direct contractors for liability for anything other than unpaid wages and fringe or other benefit payments or contributions including interest owed.

Port Drayage Motor Carries. SB 1402 would require the DLSE to post a list on its site of “bad actor” port drayage motor carriers. Examples would include companies with any unsatisfied judgment or assessment or any “order, decision, or award” finding illegal conduct as to various wage/hour issues, specifically including independent contractor misclassification and derivative claims. SB 1402 would also extend joint and several liability to the customers of “bad actor” drayage motor carriers for their future wage violations of the same nature.

Stay tuned! We will provide a full update of those bills that were voted and signed into law this Session, as well as which bills failed to meet the Legislature’s or Governor’s approval, after Governor Brown has done his work on the remaining bills.

Seyfarth Synopsis: Following a season of unprecedented outcry over persistent work-related sexual harassment, known best as the “#MeToo” movement, California lawmakers this session have considered a record number of bills that address the problem. One bill, AB 1867, recently passed by the Legislature and discussed below, will (if signed by the Governor) require large employers to keep records of all employee complaints alleging sexual harassment for at least five years. Other bills working their way through the process (as if to say “me, too”) also address this vital topic, as we briefly recap below.

Potential New Recording-Keeping Law

If signed by Governor Brown, AB 1867 will add Government Code section 12950.5 to the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). This bill would require employers of 50 or more employees to maintain internal records of complaints alleging sexual harassment for five years after the date the complainant or any alleged harasser leaves the company—whichever date is later.

AB 1867 would define an “employee complaint” as one filed through the employer’s “internal complaint process.” Existing law already requires California employers to maintain anti-harassment policies that inform employees of the complaint process available to them. The new law would permit the state Department of Labor to seek an order compelling any employer to comply with the record-keeping requirement.

In practice, this law would likely not add too much of an administrative burden to the larger employers covered by it. It is the rare—and foolhardy—California employer that does not already utilize an internal employee complaint process that takes seriously and investigates every complaint of harassment. This law would merely mandate that records of the complaints alleging sexual harassment must be maintained for the employment-plus-five-year period.

This bill raises other questions, though, for the thoughtful employer anticipating logistical issues: Would the law also mandate preservation of any investigation files? Who would have access to the preserved complaint records? What about the privacy rights of the parties involved? Would an applicant for employment at a company have a right to demand to see any complaints made alleging sexual harassment against the company? The answer to the last question should almost certainly be “No,” so long as California’s constitutional right of privacy remains intact. But it does highlight concerns about the potential use of the documents required to be maintained, which contains, by definition, only allegations of sexual misconduct.

Related Legislation

AB 1867 is not the only potential new law in this summer of #MeToo. Also heading to the Governor’s desk is AB 3109, which would void any contractual provision that waives a party’s right to testify about criminal conduct or sexual harassment by the other contracting.

Also being presented to the Governor is AB 3080—which we recently highlighted here. This bill would outlaw mandatory arbitration agreements between businesses and employees or independent contractors, and thus ensure that harassment complaints get aired in public lawsuits instead of private arbitrations. Further, AB 3080 would prohibit any contractual rule against disclosing instances of sexual harassment.

Nine other bills addressing workplace harassment are currently wending their way through the Legislature, their fates still unknown:

On the Assembly Floor:

  • The potentially onerous SB 1300 would (1) amend FEHA by expanding an employer’s potential liability, (2) prohibit a release of claims under FEHA or a nondisclosure agreement (with certain exceptions) in exchange for a raise or a bonus or as a condition of employment or continued employment, and (3) prohibit a prevailing defendant from being awarded fees and costs in certain circumstances.
  • SB 1038 would impose personal liability under FEHA for retaliating against a person who has filed a complaint against the employee, testified against the employee, assisted in any proceeding, or opposed any prohibited practice.
  • SB 1343 would expand sexual harassment prevention training requirements to employers with five or more employees and would require that Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) materials be made available in multiple languages.
  • SB 820 would void provisions in settlement agreements that prevent the disclosure of facts relating to sexual assault, sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and failure to prevent sex-based harassment and discrimination.
  • SB 224 would give additional examples of professional relationships where liability for claims of sexual harassment may arise and authorize the DFEH to investigate those circumstances.

On the Senate Floor:

  • AB 2079 would expand requirements when applying to register as a janitorial business and expand sexual harassment prevention training.
  • AB 1870 would extend the period to file an administrative charge with the DFEH alleging an unlawful employment practice under the FEHA. The current deadline is one year from the time the alleged incident. AB 1870 would extend the deadline to three years.
  • AB 2338 would require talent agencies to provide to adult artists, within 90 days of retention, educational materials on sexual harassment prevention, retaliation, nutrition, and eating disorders. Talent agencies would also have to retain, for three years, records showing that those educational materials were provided.
  • AB 3082 would require the state Department of Social Services to develop or identify educational materials addressing sexual harassment of in-home supportive services (IHSS) providers, develop or identify a method to collect data on the prevalence of sexual harassment in the IHSS program, and provide a summary of those items to the Legislature by September 30, 2019.

Stay tuned for updates on which, if any, #MeToo bill will make it over the enactment finish line, adding to the body of work that makes California employment law the peculiar wonder that it is.

Seyfarth Synopsis: The California Legislature has introduced a new bipartisan bill, AB 1870, that would give all employees—not just those claiming sexual harassment—three years to file DFEH complaints of unlawful discrimination, instead of the one year provided by current law.

More time to report discrimination

With the #MeToo movement sweeping the nation, California legislators are introducing bills aimed at giving sexual harassment-claimants more legal protection.

One measure, AB 1870, would give workers two more years to file complaints with the DFEH.

Currently, California workers subjected to harassment or discrimination have one year to file a claim with the DFEH, the state agency that enforces the FEHA. Filing a DFEH claim is a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit under the FEHA. If employees fail to file a timely DFEH complaint, then (unless some exception applies), their lawsuit can be dismissed as time-barred.

On January 18, 2018, however, a bipartisan group—Assemblywomen Eloise Reyes, Laura Friedman, and Marie Waldron—introduced Bill 1870: the SHARE Act (Stopping Harassment and Reporting Extension). The SHARE Act would triple the time complainants have to file DFEH harassment or discrimination claims. The deadline would now be three years, instead of one, from the date on which the last discriminatory act occurred. Reyes stated that “AB 1870 will allow victims the time they need to seek justice and protect due process so that every Californian has equal access to recourse.” Waldron added, “[e]xtending the time victims can report ensures they are supported and empowered to speak out when they feel comfortable—violators should not be able to avoid accountability simply because a claim is not filed within 12 months.”

What does this mean for employers? Although AB 1870 aims to protect victims of sexual harassment, the bill would have a far more expansive effect: it would give workers three years to file all types of harassment and discrimination claims—not just sexual harassment claims. The bill would not, however, enlarge the remedies available to workers alleging discrimination. Nor would the bill allow for recovery of additional damages. The chief impact on employers would be an even heavier burden to record and retain the documents needed to mitigate the loss of memory that occurs over long periods of time.

#WeSaidEnough—Other Bills for Employers to Watch

Assemblywoman Reyes introduced not only AB 1870, but also AB 1867, which would require employers with 50 or more employees to maintain records of sexual harassment complaints for 10 years from the date of filing.

SB 1300, a bill introduced by Hannah-Beth Jackson, would bolster training requirements regarding workplace harassment. SB 1300 would also allow plaintiffs to claim that a defendant failed to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring, even without proving actual sexual harassment or discrimination.

Additionally, SB 1300 would require any employer, regardless of how many employees it has, to provide sexual harassment training to all employees in California within six months of their hire and once every two years. The FEHA currently requires only that employers with 50 or more employees provide supervisory employees with this training. Moreover, SB 1300 would require an employer to provide “bystander intervention” training, reflecting the idea that both men and women can interrupt behaviors to prevent harassment. Finally, SB 1300 would require an employer to tell employees how to report harassment and how to contact the DFEH to make a complaint.

#CaliforniaWorkplaceSolutions

California employers must be committed now more than ever to stopping all forms of harassment in the workplace. Make sure you review your employee handbooks for detailed workplace policies regarding harassment and all forms of discrimination. California employers should also be sure to implement comprehensive procedures for reporting harassment and prepare policies outlining those complaint procedures.

Please contact your favorite Seyfarth attorney to ensure that you have robust policies in place regarding discrimination and harassment in the workplace and procedures to effectively respond to complaints of discrimination.

Edited By: Coby Turner