New Harassment Policies Required in California

By Stephen C. Gerrish, Senior Counsel
Employers in California should immediately review their harassment policies to ensure compliance with California’s new harassment prevention regulations.
California law mandates that employers have an affirmative duty to prevent harassment and discrimination. Employers must take “all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment.” (Ca. Govt. Code section 12940(k)). With regard to sexual harassment, California law requires the posting of a state-developed poster and the distribution to employees of a state supplied pamphlet (form DFEH-185 brochure, or similar written notice). Now, new regulations have been promulgated that broaden an employer’s notification and internal policy requirements. These regulations are effective April 1, 2016, and require employers to “develop a harassment, discrimination, and retaliation prevention policy that:
(1) Is in writing;
(2) Lists all current protected categories covered under the Act;
(3) Indicates that the law prohibits coworkers and third parties, as well as supervisors and managers, with whom the employee comes into contact from engaging in conduct prohibited by the Act;
(4) Creates a complaint process to ensure that complaints receive:
     (A) An employer’s designation of confidentiality, to the extent possible;
     (B) A timely response;
     (C) Impartial and timely investigations by qualified personnel;
     (D) Documentation and tracking for reasonable progress;
     (E) Appropriate options for remedial actions and resolutions; and
     (F) Timely closures.
(5) Provides a complaint mechanism that does not require an employee to complain directly to his or her immediate supervisor, including, but not limited to, the following:
     (A) Direct communication, either orally or in writing, with a designated company representative, such as a human resources manager, EEO officer, or other supervisor; and/or
     (B) A complaint hotline; and/or
     (C) Access to an ombudsperson; and/or
     (D) Identification of the Department and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as additional avenues for employees to lodge complaints.
(6) Instructs supervisors to report any complaints of misconduct to a designated company representative, such as a human resources manager, so the company can try to resolve the claim internally. Employers with 50 or more employees are required to include this as a topic in mandated sexual harassment prevention training, pursuant to section 11024 of these regulations.
(7) Indicates that when an employer receives allegations of misconduct, it will conduct a fair, timely, and thorough investigation that provides all parties appropriate due process and reaches reasonable conclusions based on the evidence collected.
(8) States that confidentiality will be kept by the employer to the extent possible, but not indicate that the investigation will be completely confidential.
(9) Indicates that if at the end of the investigation misconduct is found, appropriate remedial measures shall be taken.
(10) Makes clear that employees shall not be exposed to retaliation as a result of lodging a complaint or participating in any workplace investigation.

This policy applies to all categories of discrimination, not just sexual harassment. The categories include discrimination or harassment based race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, or military and veteran status.
Dissemination of this policy must be made to employees by one of several means: delivery of a printed copy, emailing with an acknowledgement form, posting on an internal website/intranet with a tracking system ensuring that all employees have received and read the posting, discussion of the policies on hiring (and presumably delivery of a copy), or any other means that ensures the employees “receive and understand” the policy.
If an employer’s existing policy on harassment do not satisfy these ten requirements, the policy should be revised immediately.
A copy of the new regulations can be found here.