California employers must provide a minimum two-hour training session on preventing sexual harassment in 2011. Under AB 1825, each employer is required to train supervisors to avoid sexual harassment in the workplace at least every two years. Employers with 50 or more employees can avoid tracking training of individual employees if they conduct company-wide training for supervisors during one calendar year. Because AB 1825 went into effect in 2005, the training takes place in odd-numbered years for most employers.
According to attorney David Goldman, employers should focus particularly on retaliation in the AB 1825 training. That is because complaints of retaliation increased 49% between 2006 and 2009. By comparison, charges of sexual harassment increased only 5% during the same period.
In particular, employers need to make supervisors aware that taking any negative action against an employee who files a discrimination or sexual harassment complaint in good faith is illegal retaliation. Common forms of retaliation can range from ostracizing the employee, to demoting or terminating the employee on trumped-up grounds. Even when a discrimination complaint is determined to be unfounded, retaliation against the employee is illegal. An employer can legally take negative action only against an employee who is found to have committed fraud when making the complaint of discrimination.
The Trans Bay Steel, Inc. of Napa and Los Angeles, California was fined $1 million for slavery and human trafficking. In the suit, the EEOC alleged that 48 Thai welders were exploited and discriminated against due to their national origin. The EEOC took the allegations one step farther, arguing that Trans Bay was actually guilty of slavery and human trafficking. Eventually, the judge agreed.
Sadly, a number of companies have been accused of discrimination recently—but few have been charged with slavery or human trafficking. When the EEOC receives a complaint of discrimination, they launch a full investigation. Only if the investigation turns up evidence of wrongdoing, does the EEOC file a suit. Not surprisingly, most companies choose to settle out of court, rather than fight the lawsuit.
Officials at Trans Bay probably wish that they had settled with the EEOC, but they fought the charges…and lost.
Trans Bay had obtained H2B visas for the employees through a third party agency. The EEOC charged that the employees were held against their will. Their passports were confiscated and their movements were restricted. The employees were forced to work without pay. In addition, some were confined to cramped apartments without electricity, water or gas.
At least 17 of the workers were told that if they attempted to leave, the police and immigration officials would arrest them. The EEOC contends that all the workers were forced to pay enormous fees to the recruiting company, which effectively kept them in involuntary servitude.
Eventually some of the workers escaped the slave-like conditions and were able to alert authorities.
The men were working to retrofit the Bay Bridge under a sub-contract won by Trans Bay, Inc. Trans Bay contracted with Kota Manpower Co. to bring skilled workers from Thailand. Eventually, 9 of the 48 workers were employed by Trans Bay. The remaining workers were forced to work without pay in Los Angles and Long Beach, in Thai restaurants owned by Kota Manpower. Some were also forced to work other menial jobs without pay.
“The issues of human trafficking and slavery are an enforcement priority for the Commission,” said Anna Y. Park, Regional Attorney in EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office, which has jurisdiction for the southern half of California. “The EEOC is committed to the protection of all workers, particularly those most vulnerable in our society. The workers in this case sought out the American dream, but instead faced a nightmare.”
After an extensive investigation, the EEOC won the suit against Trans Bay and was awarded up to $1 million. This award includes a monetary payment to each worker, with guaranteed employment on the Bay Bridge Project. The company also agreed to provide a housing stipend for workers.
In one of the most comprehensive awards in recent history, the company is required to pay the workers relocation expenses to Napa, California. They will also train and certify the workers as welders.
The company will also pay for tuition and books at a local college for the unskilled workers to train as welders. The company agreed to guarantee minimum pay and a base pay once the claimants complete their training period.
The judgment for the U.S. EEOC vs. Trans Bay Steel, Inc. includes continued monitoring by the EEOC, training of Trans Bay employees on anti-discrimination laws, changes to Trans Bay’s policies and procedures, and developing a company-wide complaint procedure.
EEOC Los Angeles District Director Olophius E. Perry said, “Through the cooperative efforts between the federal government and non-profit organizations, a just resolution was reached that is a win/win for the workers and for the employer.”
The EEOC worked closely with non-profit organizations such as the Thai Community Development Center, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, and the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.
All employers should be worried about the risk of a discrimination or harassment lawsuit. You might think you are the most open minded and fair employer in the world, but unless you have this open-mindedness and fairness instilled into your company in policies and rules, then you could be at risk for a disgruntled employee, or even an employee with a fair claim, taking you to court.
California’s legislature is looking to pass a bill for Cali employers that could actually make their lives easier when it comes to sexual harassment. The bill comes from the Fair Employment and Housing Commission actually, who is proposing the new regulation in order to help employers. The Fair Employment and Housing Commission wants the state legislature to pass a law that would make employers have to have sexual harassment training for themselves and their managers and supervisors.
The Fair Employment and Housing Commission had actually sent over the legislature a similar bill back in last November on the same issue, and the bill went to the California Office of Administrative law. (Don’t ask me how to explain how the California government works.) But the Office of Administrative law returned the bill to the Fair Employment and Housing Commission, saying it wasn’t clear enough.
Now the Fair Employment and Housing Commission has refined its proposition, saying that businesses would need training from a subject matter expert on sexual harassment. The bill will have a 15-day comment period for employers and the public to review it and make any suggestions, which will end March 14. Then the Fair Employment and Housing Commission will have a public hearing on the proposed law on March 27 in Los Angeles. All are invited. You can find out more about these meetings and the proposition itself at the Web site of the Fair Employment and Housing Commission at www.fehc.ca.gov.
A new host of labor laws have come into play in California after the New Year, but then again, California has new laws seemingly every year. Just take the new laws that came into effect in the beginning of 2006. One of such labor law was California labor law AB 1825, which came into effect as early as 2005 but really started affecting California businesses in 2006.
To be exact, California labor law AB 1825 was effective in January 2005, and required companies with more than 50 employees to provide those employees with training on how to prevent and spot sexual harassment, as well as discrimination and retaliation when it came to employees who claim they have been discriminated against or harassed.
When we say 50 employees, that includes most any employee that you can think about—full time, part time, temporary, permanent, and even contractors. Imagine any employee that you would have to file a new hire report on, and that is basically who you have to train against harassment and discrimination in your organization in California.
By 2006, according to the new law, all of your supervisors who had been in your organization since July 1, 2005, had to be trained to watch out for discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. On the other hand, if you had already trained these supervisors as of January 2003 in anti-discrimination, retaliation, and against harassment, then you did not have to train them again.
What is this training I keep talking about? According to AB 1825, the training against discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in California must include two hours of classroom instruction, or some other interactive and proven training method. Starting in 2006, the training had to be repeated at least every two years to comply with the California labor law.
This existing labor law in California on sexual harassment and discrimination, remember, is primarily for companies with 50 or more employees, and it is all about providing training to your employees to prevent them from partaking in sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation against your other employees.
So the primary focus then of your training according to California’s AB 1825 is to train anyone in your company who has some sort of authority position. This could include supervisors and managers, human resource types, and basically anyone who has authority over others in your organization.
We’re talking more than a day to day authority though. The supervisor or manager type person who is to get training under this California labor law has to have more organizational authority, such as the ability to transfer someone, fire someone, or hire someone.
It could also mean that the employee can also have the authority to assign another employee a new task, to promote them to a higher position in the organization, to reward them for exceptional performance, to punish them for poor performances, or to even discipline or suspend them for illegal or otherwise improper behavior.
It is these realms of the employee to employee relationship that discrimination and sexual harassment can rear their ugly heads. Imagine these scenarios. A woman claims that she was unfairly passed over for promotion by her supervisor, and the new job was instead given to the supervisor’s male golf buddy. Or the more insidious scenario could be that a female employee claiming that her manager always assigns her to work on projects that involve close work with her because he is coming on to her and wants to spend long hours with her late at night.
Training is meant to put a halt to such sexual harassment issues.