Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bones But Words Will Never Hurt Me….Unless I Work in California!

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May 1, 2015

A California law that recently took effect requires company supervisors to undergo anti-bullying training. Mandated training is nothing new for California employers. Since 2005, California has required employers with 50 or more employees to conduct sexual harassment training of supervisors within 6 months of assuming a supervisory position and biennially thereafter. However, the new law expands the mandated content of this training to include training on prevention of “abusive conduct.” The statute defines “abusive conduct” as conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests. The statute further provides that abusive conduct may include repeated infliction of verbal abuse, such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets, verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating, or the gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance. However, “a single act shall not constitute abusive conduct, unless especially severe and egregious.” The new law does not further specify the content of the training on prevention of abusive conduct, nor does it mandate that any specific amount of time be allotted to this topic within the 2-hour sexual harassment training. 

Why should Wisconsin employers care about a California law if they don’t have employees in California? Because the passage of this law is a sign that anti-bullying legislation is here to stay. While California’s law does not create a private right of action for an employee against the employer to seek damages for workplace bullying, several states, including Wisconsin, have legislation pending that would create such a right. All employers, regardless of location, should integrate anti-bullying training into their current training programs. Whether or not unlawful, bullying increases attrition, decreases production and deflates morale. There is no better time than the present to create a bully-free workplace…whether or not it is unlawful.

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