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New California law requires workplace training on general abuse

There are managers and workers in California who mistreat people at their workplace, but technically are not committing sexual harassment or discrimination. Even when abusive words or actions do not fit into these well-known legal categories, they can be extremely painful and create a toxic work environment for victims.

To try to fill in this gap, as of Jan. 1 California law requires larger employer to train their employees on the “prevention of abusive conduct” as part of their anti-sexual harassment training. The new law specifically refers to “abusive conduct” as conduct “with malice” that could reasonably be interpreted as “hostile, offensive and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests.”

The law gives examples like “derogatory remarks, insults and epithets” and “verbal or physical conduct” that is “threatening, intimidating, or humiliating.” Another example is sabotaging another person’s work performance.

None of this behavior necessarily would involve sexual harassment or discrimination on the basis of, say, gender, race or country of origin. But it still has no place in any California workplace. Now employers in the state are required to teach their management and staff not to act this way.

One limitation in the new law is that it does not create a private right of action for victims. This means that, unless the abuse is based on a protected category (race, gender, age, etc.), the victim cannot sue. However, failure on the employer’s part to provide training about this behavior could potentially become a course of action, depending on judicial interpretation of the new law.